By Bappa Majumdar
Kolkata, India - India has enlisted the follower of a global pagan witchcraft movement to help curb the country's high female infanticide rate and end the neglect of the girl child, officials said on Monday.
Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a Wiccan and social activist, has been nominated by the government's National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) to head a panel tasked with improving the status of young girls, they said.
Around 10 million girls have been killed by their parents over the last 20 years, the government says, as female infanticide and foeticide, although illegal, are still prevalent with boys preferred to girls as breadwinners.
"This is a triumph for Wicca as the establishment was against Wiccans for years," Chakraverti said.
Wicca is primarily a Western movement of nature worship based on pre-Christian traditions and is recognised as an official religion in the United States.
Like many pagan religions, Wicca practises magic. Wicca witches believe that the human mind has the power to cause change in ways that are not fully understood by science.
In their rituals, as well as honouring their deities, witches also perform spells for healing and help people with problems.
The Wiccan campaign has made inroads into several rural pockets across India and has helped raise awareness against victimising young women and girls as witches.
Authorities expect that this influence could be expanded to promote the overall well-being of young girls.
Chakraverti, who studied the faith in Canada, is planning to institutionalise Wicca in India. She has set up a "Wiccan Brigade" to stop the persecution and killing of young girls and women on the pretext of their being witches.
"Ipsita is the right person for the task as she is widely travelled, does a lot of social work and feels pain for the downtrodden," NCMEI chief M.S.A. Siddiqui said from New Delhi.
"We are still far away from improving the status of the girl child and this committee will help us reach this goal and will not make any discrimination on the basis of religion and caste," Siddiqui, a retired judge, said.
Domestic violence and sexual abuse involving young girls is reported frequently in the country and a 2006 government survey found that 45 percent of girls were married before the legal marriageable age of 18.
India's adult female literacy rate was 47.8 percent, compared to the adult male rate of 73.4 percent in 2004.
The sex ratio in the country is still one of the world's lowest, with an average of 933 females recorded for every 1 000 males in the 2001 census.
"Education of girls even in big cities was dismal and census figures show that the population of the girl child was dropping," said Chakraverti, adding that tough laws and education of parents were needed to force change."
"Most cannot complete primary education."