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S.F. March Highlights Indian Female Infanticide

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Mar 12, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. Nearly one hundred people marched from this citys fabled Golden Gate Park to the Indian Consulate on Mar. 6, ahead of International Womens Day, to highlight the issue of female infanticide in India.

Similar rallies, titled The Walk for Indias Missing Girls, were held in India on the same day in the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Jamshedpur and Pondi. The walk was also held in Kuwait and Australia.

In related news, the Rajya Sabha in India passed historic legislation reserving one-third of all seats for women in the national parliament (see separate story).

Nyna Pais-Caputi, a San Francisco Bay Area resident who spearheaded the walk in various cities, primarily through online social networking sites, told India-West that throughout the world, 2,500 women marched together on Mar. 6.

My goal is to eventually have every city in India participate in this walk until India decides to start enforcing its laws, said Pais-Caputi. We need to create a global movement to bring the worlds attention to this horrific situation.

Pais-Caputi and her husband Gino are creating the documentary Petals in the Dust, to highlight the plight of girl babies in India. The filmmakers estimate that more than ten million girls in India have been lost to infanticide or killed shortly after their birth.

Although abortion is legal in India, the country outlawed sex-selective abortions in 1994. Clinics across the country, however, still continue to perform such abortions.

In a cover story on Gendercide in this weeks issue of the Economist, the news magazine noted a marked rise in the phenomenon since 1949. The states of Punjab and Haryana have the worst male to female ratio, reported the Economist, with 125 boys for every 100 girls.

Daman and Diu, in western India, has the lowest sex ratio, with 591 women for every 1,000 men, said Pais-Caputi.

A 2007 India Today article reported that even prosperous areas of Delhi such as Defence Colony and Haus Khas have low sex ratios, averaging 890 girls for every 1,000 boys.

Ultrasound machines which can be used to determine the sex of a child must be registered with the Indian government, but about 10,000 such machines across the country are still used without registration.

Susmita Thomas, the Indian consul general in San Francisco, told India-West after the rally that the Indian government was very aware of the issue, and has taken a number of steps to prevent such activity, including training community health workers to spot clinics that offer sex-selective abortions, and banning the use of ultrasound machines for sex selection.

The government has been working to bring about a change in cultural and social norms, said Thomas, adding that the basic issue is economic stability.

When girls are better educated, families are less likely to see them as a burden, she said, noting that in states such as Kerala, where education and literacy is high, there are appreciably fewer female deaths.

Speaking at the rally was Angelique Guarneri, 18, from Long Beach, Calif., whose birth mother allegedly wanted to abort her. Guarneris mother came to the U.S. from India to have the abortion but was advised against it by a sidewalk counselor in front of a clinic, who eventually found adoptive parents for the newborn. Guarneris birth mother already had two daughters, and became widowed shortly after Guarneris conception.

Growing up, I used to wonder who my mom was, and why she wanted to kill me, Guarneri told India-West, adding however, that she could not fully comprehend her birth mothers situation until she was much older.

The graduating senior, who hopes to attend Oral Roberts University this fall and study business administration, said she hoped to return to India someday and find her birth mother.

I have one photo of her. A lot of people say she looks just like me, said the effusive Guarneri.

Also attending the rally was Roopa Reddy of Pleasanton, Calif., who helms the Providing Possibilities Foundation, which raises funds for Aarti Home in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh. Reddy told India-West her aim was to get more children involved in the issue.

The Aarti Home currently cares for 80 girls who have been abandoned or signed over to its care; it has placed a large cement crib at its gates for parents who want to anonymously leave their children there. BBC producer Ashok Prasad featured the Aarti Home in his 2007 documentary Indias Missing Girls.

Maidere Sorhondo, who interned at Aarti Home last summer through Stanford University, told India-West she was most inspired by Jyoti, a little girl who may be seven or eight years old, and came to Aarti Home four years ago, after developing an STD from her fathers repeated sexual abuse.

Shes just a little kid, and so much has happened to her, but she has such a passion for life and so much love, said Sorhondo, noting that Jyoti followed her around like a little puppy during her stay at Aarti Home.

It is unclear whether Jyoti will survive, added Sorhondo, noting that the girl suffers from extensive head injuries which will require surgery.

A trailer of Pais-Caputis film Petals in the Dust will be screened at UC Berkeley April 7, and can also be viewed at www.petalsinthedust.com. The filmmakers are currently seeking funding to finish the documentary.

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