KOLKATA // When Kanwal Preet was told by her doctor she was due to give birth on January 22 she could not hide her disappointment. The date came more than a week after the Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti. Instead, she demanded that her obstetrician arrange to have the baby delivered by Caesarean section, and on January 13 in the BL Kapur Memorial Hospital in New Delhi her baby girl was brought into the world on the day the sun moved into Capricorn according to Hindu astrology.
"I am very happy that my daughter was born on that auspicious day," Mrs Preet said, smiling as she cradled her newborn child. Across India, Hindu couples are increasingly consulting their astrologers to arrange the timing of births to correspond with favourable dates on the astrological calendar. The parents-to-be believe an "astrochild" will enjoy good health, happiness and success in the future.
Dinesh Kansal, a senior doctor at the hospital, said Mrs Preet had been medically ready to undergo the Caesarean any day after January 8 and when she chose the day of the Makar Sankranti as the date of delivery, the doctors were happy to fulfil her wish. Last month, Manno Shaw went into labour. When she arrived at Ballygunge Nursing Home in Kolkata with her husband, Suresh, she was told the baby would probably not arrive until the next day - January 15. Realising there was a risk their baby could be born during an eclipse of the sun, Mr Shaw left his wife and went to consult their astrologer who warned them against a birth between 11.15am and 3.25pm.
On the couple's request, the doctor delivered their baby daughter by Caesarean section about three hours before the eclipse began. "We are relieved our baby was not born during the eclipse hours," said Mr Shaw, a Hindu businessman. "We managed to get her delivered before the inauspicious hours of that day began, as our astrologer had advised." Nistar Ahmed, the doctor in the Kolkata hospital who delivered the Shaws' baby, said he regularly received requests to carry out Caesarean sections to coincide with astrological dates and times. In most cases, he said, he agrees to carry out the operation.
"If parents insist on some auspicious time for the delivery of their children we usually oblige if from a medical point of view it does not expose the baby and the would-be mother to an increased level of risk," Dr Ahmed said. "On certain dates - I see a four- or five-fold increase in the number of requests for Caesarean sections." Shree Bhrigu, one of Kolkata's most prominent astrologers, said the time of a child's birth plays a key role in determining its future. He said couples from all socioeconomic classes regularly come to him seeking his advice on when their child should be born.
"Financial fortune, success in career, fame, love - everything can be ensured by a good timing of the child's birth, Mr Bhrigu said. "A good astrologer can help couples pick the most auspicious date and time for the birth of their child from the fortnight ahead of the expected date of normal delivery, by checking on the position of the planets during that period. A doctor usually does the C-section on that precise day or moment during that fortnight, as advised by the astrologer.
"Many highly qualified young couples in modern professions too seek my advice." Pandit Ghanshyam Thakur, an astrologer in Bhopal, said that a few years ago on the "auspicious" day of Raj Yoga, on his advice, 70 babies were delivered. According to Indian astrologers, if a child is born under Raj Yoga, the royal union position of planets, he can be blessed with the fortune of a king. A senior nurse in an upscale private maternity hospital in Kolkata said that on September 9 last year, when the date was 09.09.09, numerology caused a four-fold increase in the number of caesarean sections in her hospital.
Zee News TV channel recently quoted an unnamed obstetrician in Jaipur as saying that while he usually carries out six or seven Caesarean sections each day, on August 14 last year, the birthday of the Hindu god Krishna, he performed 37 of the operations. Dr Ahmed in Kolkata defended the practice, saying he never thought that there could be "anything unprofessional or unethical" in caesarean sections prompted by astrologers.
Once considered a procedure reserved for emergencies or high-risk pregnancies, many of India's Caesareans, which now account for one in five of all births, are now carried out for non-medical reasons. A survey conducted by Delhi's Sitaram Bhartia Hospital in 2007 found that the C-section rate among the city's leading hospitals was almost 65 per cent - up from 40 per cent in 1997. About 60 per cent of these were found to have been conducted for non-medical reasons.
The World Health Organisation said that under normal circumstances a country would not have a rate of Caesareans higher than 10 per cent to 15 per cent. firstname.lastname@example.org