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India adds spiritual dimension to ‘Act East’ policy

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United Nations: Celebration of the Buddhist festival of Vesak in various Asian countries has given a spiritual dimension to India’s “Act East” policy. Both the festival and the Indian policy is based on a common heritage that spans Asia, linking nations as diverse as India and China.

India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji said at the International Day of Vesak celebration on Friday that India “sought to use the ancient links forged by our common Buddhist heritage between different countries in Asia as part of our foreign policy outreach, seeing the world as one family, or “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”.

The Indian mission made a slide presentation of the links forged by Buddhism featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to the religion’s shrines in Sri Lanka, Japan, Mongolia and China and monuments in India and Kazakhstan on the Silk Road. Afterward, Mukerji said, “As you can see, we are indeed actively linked by our common Buddhist heritage.”

“The core of the teachings of Lord Buddha, especially ahimsa or non-violence, have become an integral part of India’s political philosophy,” Mukerji said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Vesak message also referred to the political relevance of Buddha’s message: “Buddha’s observation that all peoples are interconnected reminds us of the importance of uniting as one human family resolved to address our shared struggles based on common values.”

Vesak, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha, is observed in some Asian countries on June 1, although in India it is celebrated as Buddha Purnima on May 4, an official holiday.

Adding to the ecumenical flavor of the celebration, Omani Ambassador Lyutha Al-Mughairy said Vesak “allows us to recall the importance of respect for religious and cultural diversity and the need for a peaceful and harmonious world.” She was speaking on behalf of General Assembly President Sam Kutesa,

The respect for religious diversity that she referred to was reflected in December’s General Assembly resolution to make Vesak feast a day when no official UN meetings will be held, a recognition short of a general holiday because the headquarters will stay open. This came about as a result of diplomatic efforts by India in conjunction with nations with major Buddhist populations.

The same resolution also gave Deepavali, Gurpurab and the Jewish sacred day, Yom Kippur, the status of days with no official meeting, starting next year, widening slightly the recognition of sacred days of non-Christian and non-Muslim religions. Only two religious days each of Christianity and Islam are official holidays.

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Why Is India Still carrying The Social Stigma Of Women Infanticide?

The matter of female infanticide is something that has deeply touched our heart and we feel it as our prime agenda to raise our voice against it

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Female Infanticide has been going on for many years and has resulted in the deaths of countless girl foetuses. Wikimedia Commons
Female Infanticide has been going on for many years and has resulted in the deaths of countless girl foetuses. Wikimedia Commons
  • A lot of social evils which have disgraced our history are still very much prevalent
  • Female infanticide is known to be the intentional killing of female just-born owing to people preferring male just-born
  • In China and India alone, an estimated 2,000,000 baby girls go “missing” each year

Even after so many years of independence, we are not in a position to call our country a superpower. It is not hard to believe this because in an independent country like ours exist horrific acts like the merciless killing of the girl child. A lot of social evils which have disgraced our history are still very much prevalent. The matter of female infanticide is something that has deeply touched our heart and we feel it as our prime agenda to raise our voice against it.

Female infanticide is known to be the intentional killing of female just-born owing to people preferring male just-born. This has been going on for many years and has resulted in the deaths of countless girl foetuses. People are of the opinion that the girl child is inferior to the male child and this is clearly reflected in the fact that in many parts of the world, women are still not given a status equivalent to that of men. This is no doubt the highest level of brutality and the most destructive kind of bias existing in our country and in many other countries.

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A direct proof of these facts comes from UNICEF which in its recent report concluded that 50 million girls and women are missing from the population of India because of this bias. As a matter of fact, in most countries for every 100 male births, there are approximately 105 female births. In our country, the 105 comes straight down to 93! This owes itself to 2000 odd abortions which happen illegally all over the country daily. Our people are of the opinion that only sons can provide income for the family. The system of dowry is still prevalent in some parts of the country. All these reasons have their roots in cultural beliefs of families and if female infanticide is to be stopped, then these beliefs have got to be challenged.

The government has initiated a lot of programmes to bring about a change in the attitude of people and stop these kinds of social evils. Wikimedia Commons
The government has initiated a lot of programmes to bring about a change in the attitude of people and stop these kinds of social evils. Wikimedia Commons

In countries with a history of female infanticide, the modern practice of sex-selective abortion is often discussed as a closely related issue. In several nations such as China, India and Pakistan, female infanticide remains to be a major cause of concern. It has been argued that the “low status” in which women are viewed in patriarchal societies creates a bias against females. The practice of female infanticide is found dominant among the indigenous peoples of Australia, Northern Alaska and South Asia, which seems to be “almost universal”, even in the West.

In 1990, Amartya Sen writes in the New York Review of Books estimated that there were 100 million fewer women in Asia that would be expected and that this amount of “missing” women “tells us, quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect leading to the excess mortality of women.”  Initially, the Sen’s suggestion of gender bias was contested and it was suggested that hepatitis B was the cause of the alteration in the natural sex ratio.

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The numerical worldwide deficit in women is widely accepted due to gender-specific abortions, infanticide and neglect. Before Islamic culture became established in Arabic country in the seventh-century, female infanticide was widely practised.  According to scholars, the fact was attributed that women were deemed “property” within those societies. Some speculated that some women wanted to prevent their daughters from a life of misery, and thus would kill the child. But with the introduction of Islamic rule, the practice was made illegal.

People in India are of the opinion that only sons can provide income for the family. Wikimedia Commons
People in India are of the opinion that only sons can provide income for the family. Wikimedia Commons

In India, dowry system is one given reason for female infanticide; over a time period spanning centuries, it has become embedded within Indian culture. Although, there are several steps taken to abolish the dowry system but the practice still persists. For the rural families, female infanticide and gender-selective abortion are attributed to the fear of being unable to raise a suitable dowry and then being socially boycotted.

In 1789, during the time of British colonial rule in India, the Britishers discovered that female infanticide in Uttar Pradesh was openly acknowledged. A study by the scholars shows that the majority of female infanticides in India during the colonial period occurred for the most part in the North West. However, not all the groups were involved in this practice it was widespread. It was only after a thorough investigation by the colonial authorities in 1870 that the practice was made illegal.

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Some age-old practices seem to be deeply rooted in the Indian culture and making India undergoing a type of “female genocide”. As per one of the reports of the United Nations, India stands out to be the most deadly country for female children, and that in 2012 female children aged between 1 and 5 were 75 percent more likely to die as opposed to boys. One of the children’s rights group called CRY has acknowledged that of 12 million females born yearly in India 1 million will have died within their first year of life. According to the United Nations, there could be a possibility of such a severe crisis that less number of females will lead to a sharp increase in sexual violence.  A consequence of this will be a complete deterioration of social values. This practice of deselecting females is mainly due to factors like religion, economic factors and socio-cultural factors.

In several nations such as China, India and Pakistan, female infanticide remains to be a major cause of concern. Wikimedia Commons
In several nations such as China, India and Pakistan, female infanticide remains to be a major cause of concern. Wikimedia Commons

The economic factor arises from the belief that sons will provide economic stability to the family by earning wages, providing farm labour for family business and support parents during old age. People tend to think that after marriage, a son brings a female addition to the family who provides help in household work as well as dowry payment brings some sort of an economic advantage.

Coming to the socio-cultural factor, it is believed that having at least one male child is essential to continue the familial line and the respect of a family in the society is proportional to the number of male children in it. According to a certain Hindu tradition, only sons are permitted perform the funeral of their parents which assists in the attainment of salvation for the deceased.

Also Read: Today’s Social Issues and their Answers to Children

The government has initiated a lot of programmes to bring about a change in the attitude of people and stop these kinds of social evils by introducing various laws, schemes and acts which favour the education of the girl-child, equal rights and equal property share. In spite of all these steps taken, there is much left to be desired.

In China and India alone, an estimated 2,000,000 baby girls go “missing” each year. They are selectively aborted, killed as newborns, or abandoned and left to die. Other countries with similar cultural traditions, who have also faced this problem are South Korea and Nepal. The root causes of female infanticide are similar but not exactly the same in Confucian countries like China and South Korea, versus predominantly Hindu countries such as India and Nepal.