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Celebrating the girl child

June 23, 2012, WFS

RAJASTHAN

Usha (seen here with her newborn daughter) and her husband celebrated the birth of their daughter. PIC COURTESY WFS.

It may be the Aamir Khan effect or a mere coincidence, but today at least a few corners of the state erupt in joy at the arrival of a baby girl, writes Abha Sharma

A nondescript village in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, a state known for its poor child sex ratio, had a celebration of a different kind on May 18. On the birth of a baby girl, the sweet sound of a ‘kansi ki thali’ (bronze plate) was sounded in the narrow lanes of Ganderon ki Dhani, which lies nearly 15 kilometres from Jodhpur’s district headquarters and draws its name from Gander, a sub-caste of the Dalit Meghwal community.

What’s so special about this celebration? Well, in traditional Hindu societies this ritual — that involves beating a bronze plate — is reserved for the birth of a son. What then prompted Usha and Laxmi Ram to break away from this age-old custom? Says the new father, “Both my wife and I have been supportive of the ‘Save the Girl Child’ campaign and God was kind enough to bless us with a baby girl. In fact, just two days after my daughter was born I got the news that I had been selected in the Junior Accountant’s exam. It was double celebrations for us. We wanted to set an example — and what better way than to start from our own home?”

Call it the Aamir Khan effect or a mere coincidence, but today there are happy tidings coming in with regard to the girl child from different corners of Rajasthan. The government has stepped up action against erring sonography clinics and some district collectors are devising their own innovative methods to protect the “nanhi chiraiyas” (to borrow a metaphor used for baby girls in a special song on ‘Satyamev Jayate’); finally giving the ‘Save the Girl Child’ campaign a fighting chance to make a difference.

All of it will certainly be worth the effort, if this recent roster of accolades won by the state’s girl students is anything to go by. As they have done in the recent past, girls continued to outshine boys in the recently declared Board examination of Class XII. In fact Babli, who topped the Class XII Arts exams this year, has an interesting background. She is a bit like the ‘Balika Vadhu’ heroine, who is being supported by her in-laws in her quest for education.

Meanwhile, Rajasthani women scaled new heights, quite literally, with Major Neha Bhatnagar of Jaipur and Captain Dipika Rathore, hailing from a small village in Nagaur, having successfully summited Mount Everest. Both were part of an army expedition.

The fact is that girls in Rajasthan have demonstrated their potential to excel in every sphere of life, provided they are allowed to do so. A look at the Child Sex Ratio (CSR) reveals the challenge they face: Out of Rajasthan’s 33 districts in the state, there are barely 10 districts that have a CSR of 900 or above. Surprisingly, the tribal districts fare better. While state capital, Jaipur, has a discouraging CSR of 865 in its rural hinterland and 860 in urban areas, districts where tribal habitations are higher — like Dungarpur, Banswara, Udaipur, Jhalawar and Baran — are better placed on the list. The Shekhawati region, famous for its entrepreneurship and prosperity, is perhaps the worst, with the rural sex ratio in the age group of 0-6 at 825. The district of Sikar follows at 836.

According to Rizwan Parvez, of the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), “The tehsil-level CSR data for 2011 also indicates clearly that the sex determination contagion is not limited to urban areas only.” Rural households in Rajasthan are fast catching up. Trendy cellphones and even LCD TV sets can be seen in many rural homes simply because they are the ‘in’ thing. So it is not unusual for these people to follow the trend of sex determination tests, Parvez points out.

On its part, CFAR has been working in 54 panchayat samitis of six districts — Jaipur, Sikar, Dausa, Jodhpur, Pali and Jalore. Says Parvez, “We are trying to devise a mechanism, which can oppose these malpractices by involving panchayat office bearers. Being the elected representatives, their role is crucial in not only generating awareness but also preventing the unfortunate trend of sex determination tests.”

But long before the tehsil census brought the skewed rural sex ratio to the fore, or before Aamir Khan’s ‘Satyamev Jayate’ highlighted the female foeticide issue, Pali district had already made an exemplary beginning to reestablish pride in the birth of a girl child in the family. Sharing his experience of the Sumangla scheme, launched in his district in November 2010, district collector Niraj K Pawan says, “We want to create an atmosphere where the birth of girls is also seen as an occasion to celebrate.”

On the birth of the first girl child in the family, the district administration offers an incentive of Rs 3,100, while there is an inducement of Rs 6,100 when a second daughter is born. For couples who decide to complete their families after two daughters, the administration offers an additional Rs 11,000.

Sweets, a greeting card duly signed by the collector, and the gift of a sari and a dress for the newborn are the other symbolic gestures being made, adds Pawan. The best part of this incentive is that it does not put an additional burden on the state exchequer. The credit for financial help goes to the Shanidham Trust, run by a philanthropic resident of Pali district, Madan Rajasthani.

Of course, according to Pawan, this is just one component of the Sumangla Scheme. Girls topping the Class X and XII exams get to enjoy free air travel to Delhi, while those excelling in extracurricular or sports activities got to take a helicopter ride during the Pali Mahotsava last year.

Incentives apart, the alert district administration has an active tracking system and helpline in place at all sonography centres as well. In fact, Pawan, too, keeps a watchful eye to ensure that there is no violation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act (PCPNDT Act) in his area.

If the district of Pali is setting a great example for others to follow, the border districts, too, are not far behind. In Barmer, the Auxiliary Nurse and Midwives (ANMs) as well as the anganwadi workers have been instructed to keep a track of reported births and miscarriages, if any. Moreover, an identity card — be it a BPL card or PAN card or voter id — is now mandatory at all sonography clinics in the district, according to Vikram Singh Champawat, district coordinator of the PCPNDT cell.

Away from individual districts, in an order that will have a widespread impact, the Rajasthan High Court has asked the state government to install active trackers at all sonography centres in the state within four months.

Things are certainly moving along.. Borrowing from the lyrics of the song sung at the close of Satyamev Jayate’s episode on sex selective abortions, while “andhiara hai ghana aur lahu se sana (the night is dark and filled with bloodshed)” the positive initiatives from the districts of Jodhpur, Pali and Barmer are like “kirno ke tinke… (twigs of hope)”. If there is a will, there is always a way. 


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