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August 1, 2009

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Dropped babies spark India row

RIGHTS activists lashed out yesterday at local officials who allowed hundreds of infants to be dropped from the roof of a mosque in western India in the belief that the fall -- which ends when the babies are caught in a bedsheet -- would ensure good health and prosperity for their families.

The ritual at the Baba Umer Durga, a Muslim shrine, is believed to have been followed for nearly 700 years, and each year hundreds of people, both Hindus and Muslims, take part in the ritual.

Local officials told television stations there had been no reports of injuries.

The infants, mostly under two years old, were dangled on Thursday from the roof of the shrine near Solapur, about 450 kilometers south of Mumbai, before being dropped about 15 meters onto a bedsheet held aloft by parents and other believers. Television channels showed the babies screaming as they were shaken in the air before being dropped.

With high child mortality rates, especially in India's rural areas, many people resort to rituals which they believe can ensure their children's health.

Child rights activists expressed outrage after the Headlines Today TV channel showed the babies being dropped.

"This shows the complete failure of the local administration to prevent this practice and to create awareness about children's health," said Ranjana Kumari, a civil rights activist in New Delhi.

"It is also a reflection of the lack of access to health services, that forces people to behave in this irrational manner," she said.

India's National Commission for Protection of Child's Rights issued a notice on Thursday to the local administration in Solapur and has begun investigating.


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