Pune: Eight years after creating waves in India, Pune-based Dr Ganesh Rakh's unique 'Save Girl Child' initiative that involves some 1.75 million volunteers in the country has entered Zambia, with thousands pledging their support for the cause and grabbing the attention of the African continent.
At a rally in Lusaka on Friday, a team of medicos, groups and activists led by Rakh gave a clarion call to people on "the need to save and protect the girl child if mankind itself has to be saved from possible extinction".
Hundreds of enthusiastic Zambians chanted in the streets, soliciting participation of their brethren - "We Have Participated. You Also Participate. Together we will contribute in our field for saving the girls", Dr Rakh told IANS.
Interestingly, when he first launched the campaign in his Medicare Hospital, Pune, on January 3, 2012, with a proclamation "to deliver female child absolutely free of cost", he was promptly labelled a 'Mad Doctor'.
Eight years later, over 200,000 private doctors, 12,000 NGOs and 1.75 million volunteers are now dedicated to Rakh's philosophy and contributing in different ways daily in India, through the 'Beti Bachao Jan Andolan' (BBJA).
"It has also spread to Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, but this is our first foray in Zambia, at the invitation of several local, committed NGOs here. They have decided to launch 'Save Girl Child' campaigns in Zambia and other countries of Africa," a pleased Rakh said.
Marking the occasion, several international groups and activists from around the world have joined the campaign in Lusaka, hoping to create the right attitude among the people.
Locals in Zambia explained that there are no killings of female foetuses in Zambia, but many people prefer to beget a male child owing to certain old rites and beliefs, similar to India.
"In fact, some people even experiment with pregnant women to ensure she gives birth to a male. But if a female is born, she faces discrimination all her life, right from nutrition, health, education and equal opportunities in life," said an activist.
In the guise of ancient customs and traditions, girls are forced to undergo operations which create huge medical problems even leading to death, besides physical abuse and rape, all of which fuels the desire for male children.
When the Zambian activists first learnt of the Pune doctor's campaigns through the media, they decided to implement it in Zambia and invited Rakh and his team to guide them.
Among the prominent groups joining him are: Mwashibukeni Community's organisations, Save Life Foundation, Lions Club of Mulungushi and Eden University.
Others include known social activists like Wetty Tembo, Keith Siame, Flavien Bumbangi, Younus Essa, R. Lungu, Susamu Malkui Mawa, Rachel Yula, Momba Doughal, Muchala Wiza, Albert Lunga, Gerala Mwaanga and Mumbai-born celebrity Shantinath alias 'Just' Sul, 50, settled in Zambia for the past nearly two decades.
The groups and activists committed to ignite Rakh's spark in Zambia and carry the torch of 'Save Girl Child' in other African nations like the Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria to eventually cover the entire continent in phases.
"They resolved to continue the crusade till the male:female ratio in Africa achieves a proper balance and there is no discrimination between a boy and girl, like in many developed countries," said a proud Rakh.
Rakh's attention-grabbing initiative entails all deliveries of female babies a grand 'celebration' by distributing sweets and cakes, free medical treatment and follow-ups; first highlighted by IANS in July 2014.
In past over seven years, Medicare Hospital has conducted free deliveries of around 1,500 female children, whether normal, caesarean or complicated cases.
The expenditure on these free deliveries - it can cost between Rs 15,000 and Rs 30,000 - is offset by routine out-patient-department consultation fees or hospital bills of male child births, leaving thin profit margins but a wide smile of satisfaction on Rakh's face.
Today, the situation has drastically changed and many families go happily after begetting a female child. Those who can afford it decline the 'free service' and instead offer to sponsor the delivery of some male child born to poor parents.
The son of a humble labourer Adinath and domestic help Sindu, hailing from Solapur, Ganesh Rakh managed to finance his entire education through scholarships.
Now, he says he is repaying his debt to society through the BBJA and with support of his wife Trupti and daughter Tanisha.