Salola village in Ambala, Haryana, has much to grapple with. But what’s foremost on every man’s mind here is that they are discriminated against when it comes to jobs because they are from a border district (Ambala is on the border of Punjab and Haryana). The fact that only one-third of its under-18 population comprises girls, does not bother the menfolk much.
As part of educating the community and wrapping up their project Meri Shakti, Meri Beti in this village, Manasi Mishra, head, research and knowledge management department, Centre of Social Research (CSR), conducts a talk on female foeticide, its negative impact on society and the Preconception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994.
Spread the word: CSR workers conduct a talk on female foeticide in Salola village. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Set up in 1983, CSR is a Delhi-based organization whose core mission is to restructure gender relations. Among other projects, it has been running Meri Shakti, Meri Beti in three areas of Delhi since 2005 and in approximately 20 villages in Kurukshetra and Ambala since 2009. “Your boys will remain unmarried. If girls are killed, then brides will have to be bought. You will pay dowry to get your boys married. Your girls, they can take care of you in your old age,” Mishra drones on. The meeting takes place on the veranda of the local school and is attended by around eight married women, a couple of teenage girls, half a dozen boys of varying ages and a few children.
Most boys are outright dismissive of the talk on female foeticide that Mishra is giving. “We know about the issue through TV and Internet, but there are many girls in our village,” says Sandeep. Yet he contradicts himself when he says that in this village of 2,000 residents, of which approximately “900 are voters” or people above 18, 65% of the under-18 population is male. The boys who flank Sandeep carelessly throw figures about a “Jat galli” (a lane where Jats live) in their village where in the under-18 age group, there are 44 boys and just two girls.
None of them seem to comprehend that there is something alarming about these figures.
A former constable and strapping man of about 25, who wishes to remain anonymous says, nonchalantly: “Hum to ek joda, ek baccha per vishwas kerte hai ab (We now follow the one couple, one child rule).” He adds, “We have no jobs, and it is tough to bring up more than one child. So when we have a son, we stop trying for another child.”
There are several reasons why the girl child has very little chance of survival in rural India, and going by his logic, it seems that the family planning message that has made inroads into villages has actually done so at the cost of the girl child. Mishra also explains that while the old reasons of why girl children are not preferred remain (dowry, perceived economic viability of having a son), new factors have cropped up too. “Parents in villages are concerned about the chastity of the girl child, and find it tough to protect her all the time. Also, they are scared about this trend of marriages breaking up and the rise of violence against women.” All this information was gathered in a baseline survey that CSR conducted in these villages at the start of the project.
State governments often refuse to circulate information about the PCPNDT Act through gazette notifications or just don’t spend enough on updating informational material about female foeticide for the masses. Also, the bickering between government medical bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sometimes acts as a deterrent to the cause of the girl child.
The poetry-spouting chief medical officer (CMO) and district appropriate authority, PCPNDT Act, Ambala, Satish Aggerwal says the only way to correct the sex ratio anywhere in the country is to take constant action. “NGOs can only act as motivators, but the (ability to take) real action lies with the government.” In the nine months since he took over, he claims to have “sealed” nine ultrasound machines and raided 17 medical practitioners in his district. He states that no NGO has any role in this. “They give us no information, have not told us where to conduct raids. NGOs have to work in the field and get us information so that we can conduct more raids,” he says.
But Ranjana Kumari, director, CSR, counters: “We are not spies of the state. NGOs cannot really work at giving (such) reports. Who will create awareness then? Such investigations are the government’s job. The Haryana government is totally insensitive to the issue of female foeticide. This is one state that has the maximum honour killings, dowry deaths are on a rise too, there is low education for the girl child. Why is it like this? The political class of Haryana is not taking responsibility for eradicating this issue.”
According to Kumari, in projects that work on a one-year grant at a time, the maximum amount of time goes into building a rapport. “Haryana is a place where we need to build this rapport, and it is tough. From the beginning, it has been tough to work with the authorities because they doubt the intentions of NGOs. They have the attitude that NGOs are here to eat money. The presence of an NGO makes CMOs very uncomfortable. Mistrust between us causes (more) problems.”
Kumari believes that “the process of attempting to reverse the practice of female foeticide takes at least a decade in any area. It cannot be done in a year or two.”
Want to combat female foeticide? Then, in Kumari’s opinion, “give people the financial incentive to have a girl child. Increase the economic worth of a woman— that’s the bottom line.” She cites the example of the Ladli Scheme run by the government of Delhi, under which parents with two girl children are given monetary assistance as a way ahead. “Society will change only when women will be viewed as an economic asset to the family,” she says.
Centre for Social Research: www.csrindia.org