PUCL Bulletin, September 2001

Female Foeticide and Infanticide in India
- Baha'i View Point

This statement by Dr. AK Merchant, Vice Chairman, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bhai's of India was present at the National religious Leaders Convention on the abolition of Female Feticide and Infanticide organised by the Indian medical association, the UNICEF, the National Commission for Women, and the Department of Women and Children, Ministry of HRD on June 24th 2001. According to Dr. Merchant the 'Baha'i is the only religion which has never had any instance of Female Feticide or infanticide because of the religious law of full quality of both men and women --Chief Editor

Conditions of justice and equity that foster both individual and collective well- being remain an elusive goal. At one extreme deprivation and despair afflict vast numbers of the world's peoples, while, at the other, a limited segment of the human race is enjoying a conscious and unrestrained affluence. Entrenched patterns of dependency, discrimination, and poverty are accompanied by great disillusionment with the modern ethos. Recognition of the vital link between the practical and spiritual aspects of human life leads inevitably to a reframing of what constitutes well being and of the possible mechanisms for attaining such well-being. This realization undel1ines the need for a systematic exploration of the roles that women and men perform for. the advancement of civilization, as we know it.

The Baha'i teachings provide insight into the reasons for the failure of a religious community to preserve its pristine purity. They are manifold but include the following: The lack of a universally accepted source of authoritative interpretation of the words of the Founder, with the result that some crucial terms were open to being understood in a variety of ways, thereby giving rise, in certain instances, to a highly discriminatory interpretation; the assignment of unwarranted authority to the views of charismatic religious leaders, who were often unwittingly influenced by the discriminatory culture from which they arose, and whose words were given an authority equal to that of the founder; the admission to the sacred canon of oral traditions, many of which were of questionable validity and accuracy, and which came to possess an authority equivalent to that of the Sacred Text; the unjustified generalizations made from the specific action of the Founder in a particular situation of which all details are not known; the compromises made to the presentation of the new teachings to accommodate prevailing cultural views about the inferiority of women, motivated by the desire to make the religion more palatable to the masses and thus to increase the number of converts; and the vested interests of an exclusively male ecclesiastical establishment in preserving its position assigned to women.

The equality of men and women is an important element in the achievement of the oneness of the human family. The Baha'i Faith is the first revealed religion in the entire span of recorded history to have affirmed, as an integral element of its teachings, not only that the equality of women and men must be regarded as a spiritual reality, but that this equality must be expressed in both individual and social practice. The changes on a personal and social level necessary to make equality an established reality are far reaching. The practice of equality requires not only basic changes in attitude and behaviour by both women and men but also a fundamental alteration to the structure of society, to provide the necessary legal rights and to provide educational and employment opportunities for women. A distinguishing feature of the approach to change outlined in the Baha'i writings is that it fosters the practice of equality by men and women in such a way as to preserve and indeed strengthen the fundamental unity of the family and society. The methods employed emphasise cooperation, mutual encouragement and support, and consultation.
Baha'u'llah, founder prophet of the Baha'i Faith unequivocally asserts the spiritual equality of women and men. He states, "All should know… Women and men have been will always be equal in the sight of God," and He indicates that, "In this Day the Hand of Divine grace hath removed all distinctions. The servants of God and His handmaidens are regarded on the same plane."
In the Baha'i writings there are practical provisions for promoting the equality of women and men, for fostering the development of full partnership, and for modifying the "harmful attitudes and habits" that stand in the way of the emancipation of women.

It is indicated that "women have equal rights with men upon earth; in religion and society they are a very important element", and calls to attention to the fact that "Divine Justice demands that the rights of both sexes should be equally respected since neither is superior to the other in the eyes of Heaven." These authoritative statements from the Baha'i writing are regarded by Baha'i is as expressions of the Divine Will; thus Baha ' is regarded it as a religious obligation to heed the calls of these writings for changes in both attitudes and legal systems to accommodate this new reality. To deprive women arbitrarily of these rights and privileges, or to deprive them to even being born or killing them in infancy is both immoral and unjust, a violation of God's law. It has a detrimental effect on the society and the individuals responsible for such acts.
The protection of the girl child, and the natural right of the female embryo to be born and attain full adulthood demands not only adequate government legislation but also the moral responsibility on the part of all the strata of the society to act firmly and justly. Then can we transform the moral and psychological climate, abolish totally the practice of female foeticide and infanticide in our country, and promote positive attitudes and behaviour in the individual members and the society at large.

However great the turmoil he period into which humanity is moving will open to every individual, every institution, and every community on earth unprecedented opportunities to participate in the writings of the planets future. "Soon", is Baha'u'llah confident promise, "will the present day Order be rolled up, and new one spread out in its stead."

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