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Wherever in the world Indians have travelled, they have taken with them the values, culture and beliefs of Mother India. India’s cultural exports have added beauty and richness to societies – all except one, the low status afforded to women.
In India it permeates through the ages, manifesting itself in the all-too-prevalent abuse and rape of women and the termination of girls in the womb. It is an attitude incongruent with the values of gender equality in British society and must be addressed. For months newspaper reports have pointed to an existing problem of gender selection abortions among British Asians. It cannot be ignored.
So what do we do? Firstly societies cannot function effectively when laws protecting core and justified values are abused and superseded by misguided cultural practices. It is therefore necessary that the Government sends a firm and clear message that gender selection abortions have no place in British society, by imposing a ban on the practice.
Abortion is only allowed under certain grounds and gender selection is not listed as one of them. However technically an abortion can be performed under Ground C, which allows for abortion where the pregnancy could pose a risk of injury to the mental and physical health of the woman. This Ground, under which over 90 per cent of abortions are performed, is wide open to the interpretation of doctors as to what constitutes a mental health risk. Thus a woman could argue that she is under a lot of pressure from her family and her husband because she is carrying a girl instead of a boy. Her family wants a boy and are not happy that it is a girl. She could argue that she is under such pressure that continuing with the pregnancy with a girl will significantly affect her mental health. This is why what I and the pro-life charity I work for, Life, have called for is that there is an amendment to the Abortion Act to clearly specify that abortion will not be allowed for gender selection – a clear ban – to end any confusion about whether Ground C can be used to justify an abortion in these cases.
Secondly, religious leaders in British Asian communities must shoulder some of the blame for this state of affairs. I was invited to visit a temple a few years ago to speak about abortion and gender selection. A few minutes before I was due to speak, I was called away to see the president of the temple, who firmly told me he was cancelling the talk because “matters relating to sex” could not be discussed in a temple.
I wasn’t surprised. Abortion and sex are rarely discussed openly in Indian communities much less, a Hindu temple. But it is precisely the refusal of Hindu leaders to engage with the issue of abortion in general, and gender selection abortion in particular, that represents a failure, indeed a dereliction of their duty to provide essential guidance to Hindus. Their silence has created the default impression that it is mainly Christians that have a problem with abortion.
I have spoken to many Hindus who have no idea what the Hindu position is on these matters. Hinduism is clear in its opposition to abortion. Life begins at fertilisation with the entry of Atma, (or soul) defined as a spark of God, Paramatma. Destruction of the unborn baby is prohibited in the Vedas not simply because of its atmic sanctity but also because abortion thwarts this soul on its karmic journey through many births on its way to salvation. The termination of the unborn baby is also a violent act incompatible with the Hindu principle of Ahimsa or non-violence.
Where gender selection is concerned, Hindus must be reminded of the eminence placed on women in the scriptures. The actual primordial cosmic energy of God, also known as Shakti, is personified in a feminine form and identified as the Divine Mother in Hinduism. The Hindu Goddess Durga wages wars against evil. Hindu scriptures do not see women as having lesser value than men. Where depicted as mothers, the scriptures pay tribute to their great importance in God’s creative plans.
Given the importance of women in Hinduism, the mind boggles that some Hindus today see women as liability. There is a notorious ad for gender selection in India that came out a few years ago: "Spend 500 rupees (£4.80) now and save 50,000 rupees (£480) later." It speaks volumes about the nature of the Indian tragedy in which an estimated one million girls are aborted every year. Girls require a dowry to be married. Boys will receive a dowry, are expected to look after their parents in old age and can carry on the family name. It’s a consideration of asset and liability which should never be used with human life.
India’s tragedy of the missing girls must not be exported to the UK. It must be nipped in the bud by lawmakers and religious leaders before the situation gets out of hand.