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Now, 'gurus' on gender mission

Now, 'gurus' on gender mission

india Updated: Aug 04, 2006 10:42 IST

When the system  fails — the gurus step in. Renuka Chowdhary, minister-in-charge of women and child development, will meet eight “seers” — to whom she has shot missives — over the next month to “persuade” them to create mass awareness against female infanticide, gender imbalance and polyandry.

A recent United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) study on the poor sex ratio in districts like Fatehgarh and Gurudaspur in Punjab and Kurukshetra and Ambala in Haryana, where men outnumber women, tells a grim story.

“Crime against women has gone up by 15-20 per cent. Women from the tribal areas of Jharkhand and Bihar are forced into marriage and prostitution in rural Punjab  and Haryana,” a ministry official said quoting from the report.

These states are also witnessing a new trend — instances of polyandry (tradition of brothers  marrying one woman). Polyandry — practiced during the Vedic ages — finds mention in religious scriptures. People of the Kinnar district of Himachal Pradesh have been known to practise it. But gender bias has given it a wider reach in modern India.

Districts like Fatehgarh and Kurukshetra in Haryana — with the lowest sex ratio of 754 women for 1,000 men and 770 women for every 1000 men respectively — are gradually finding the concept “family brides” more “convenient and economical”.

“The few cases reported are from among the poorest, who can’t buy a bride,” an official said.

Officials fear that the trend can spread to other low sex ratio districts resulting in “societal changes”. There are about 150 districts in the country with sex ratio lower than the national average of 927 — which fell from 976 in 1961. The government is unable to cope with the trend — and has fallen back on spiritualists to set the balance right.

Women and child development ministry officials said, “They have been chosen as they have mass following.” According to Choudhary, their intervention will have tremendous “impact” on the popular psyche as some of them have cult status.

The ministry of women and child development, in a letter to top spiritual gurus of the country, said polyandry and crime against women were common in areas with skewed male-female ratio.

“Societal imbalances are creeping in and reports of trafficking of women, forced marriages and polyandry have come to our notice,” a ministry official said. So, Guru Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar may soon have a new message for the masses.