Sunday, October 7, 2007

Ahimsa saves the girl child

PUNE: "As believers in the tenets of 'ahimsa' (non-violence), we Jains don't even kill insects. So how can we kill the girl child?"

Using such emotional appeals based on the fundamental principle of the right to life, coupled with hard data on female foeticide and infanticide, the Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana (BJS) here has claimed to have made a breakthrough in Maharashtra in curbing the crime against the girl child.

Numbering barely 42 million in the ocean of 1.02 billion Indians (2001 census), community elders among the Jains began seeing the impact of a declining sex ratio on the rising unavailablity of eligible girls for marriage.

This first came to light during a mass marriage movement initiated in by BJS president and businessman-social worker, Shantilal Muttha, in 1986-87.

During a 1993 survey of eligible boys and girls (18-25 age-group) in 25,000 Jain families in Maharashtra, the organisation found that there were barely 780 females of marriageable age per 1,000 males. “This worked out to a male-female ratio of 61:39,” BJS national secretary Prafulla Parakh told TOI.

Parakh said the findings were in tune with the national census statistics on declining child sex ratio. While the 2001 census recorded a child sex ratio of 927 girls per 1,000 boys in 0-6 years as against 945 in the 1991 census, Maharashtra's child sex ratio stood at 913 girls per 1,000 boys, declining sharply by 33 per cent from 946 girls in the 1991 census.

These statistics, coupled with the Jain community's difficulties at match-making events, motivated Muttha to address the issue.

Two decades on, the BJS is now convinced that the numerous mass awareness drives and the multi-pronged initiatives that it undertook to discourage female foeticide have borne fruit.