Rohtak, Haryana: On 22 January last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (save the daughter, educate the daughter) campaign to improve India’s child sex ratio and promote gender equality.
Appropriately enough, he flagged off the campaign in Panipat, Haryana, which had the worst child sex ratio (the number of girls for every 1,000 sons) among Indian states. Haryana’s child sex ratio, the 2011 census found, was 834, compared with the national average of 919.
Less than a year later, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced last week that Haryana’s sex ratio at birth had improved to 903 in December— the first time in a decade that it had crossed 900.
Sex ratio is the number of women per 1,000 men while child sex ratio is the number of females per 1,000 males in the 0-6 age group.
Khattar credited the dramatic improvement in Haryana to the Beti Bachao programme, which was aimed at preventing gender-biased sex selective elimination or female foeticide, and ensuring survival and protection of the girl child.
Yet, there are pockets of Haryana where it has clearly had no impact. Like Bhagwati Pur, a village of 3,894 people as per Census 2011, located 76km from Panipat where Modi launched the Beti Bachao campaign.
Bhagwati Pur is a 20-minute drive from the secretariat in the town of Rohtak. A left turn onto an unpaved road takes you to the village of small brick houses lining a one-way road that branches out into narrow lanes as you travel deeper inside the village.
Bhagwati Pur’s sex ratio at birth plummeted from 848.48 in 2014 to an alarming 549.02 by the end of 2015, according to the state’s health department’s data. Census 2011 data had placed the village’s child sex ratio (CSR) at 845.61 girls for 1,000 boys.
At 866.04, the gender ratio of the village is comparatively better than its CSR.
Bhagwati Pur is a part of the district of Rohtak, which, with 807 girls per 1,000 boys, has among the worst child sex ratios in Haryana, according to Census 2011 data. Rohtak was chosen as one of 100 districts nationwide where the Beti Bachao mission has been implemented.
A joint initiative between the ministry of women and child development (WCD), ministry of health and family welfare and ministry of human resource development, Beti Bachao was designed to reverse the trend of declining CSR in India. According to Census 2011, national CSR plunged from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and 919 in 2011.
The government aimed to prevent the practice of sex selection before or after conception, deter the use of diagnostic techniques for sex determination leading to female foeticide, mobilise local communities and sensitise them to the need for healthier child sex ratios, promote universal school enrolment and reduce the school dropout rates of girl children.
Sex determination and female foeticide have been partly blamed for the low CSR in Rohtak and elsewhere in Haryana, although sex selection was outlawed by the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.
“There are around 149 villages in Rohtak district. It is not easy to change mindsets and even now we find agents who enter villages and help families get the sex of their child determined. Now that we have controlled it in Haryana, the business has moved to neighbouring states of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh,” says Kuldeep Singh, deputy civil surgeon, who has been monitoring ultrasound centres in Rohtak to rein in sex determination.
As many as 58 and 72 first information reports (FIRs) have been registered under the 1994 law, and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MPT) Act, 1971, respectively from June 2015 till date, according to chief minister Khattar.
Since the implementation of Beti Bachao started, there has been a visible increase in efforts to spread public awareness of the need for a healthy CSR.
“Compared to the previous years, there is an increase in our activities—we hold rallies, perform plays, make people take oaths to save the girl child and have posters all over the place,” says Sabita, an anganwadi (child care centre) worker based in Shimli village neighbouring Bhagwati Pur. “Gathering a crowd isn’t difficult. What we need is participation by the general public.”
The Beti Bachao mission entails a signature campaign in which people sign a pledge to save the girl child, on a board. “No one bothers to find out what they are signing and we also are more concerned with filling the board to make a pretty picture,” says Sabita, who uses only one name. This practice has led to what she calls a photo culture with women and child development department officials photographing as many Beti Bachao activities and events as possible.
The Beti Bachao mission also carries the burden of past schemes aimed at saving the girl child that are yet to yield results. For instance, the state government has over the years launched various schemes such as Apni Beti Apna Dhan, (our daughter, our wealth, 1994) and Ladli, (loved one, 2005), which aimed at increasing CSR by providing monetary incentives on the birth of a daughter.
But many beneficiaries of the scheme are yet to receive the promised money, or have only received half the amount. “Many families who had raised daughters in the hope of getting the money to meet expenses have become even more anti-girl child after not receiving their dues,” says 50-year-old Suresh Kumari, who has been an anganwadi worker in Bhagwati Pur since 1984. “We feel ashamed when families blame us for misleading them into raising a girl child. Why should we suffer for the government’s inability to deliver?”
With a total project cost of Rs.199.99 crore in the 12th five-year plan for India and 100% central assistance, funds are not a problem. “On ground activities and enforcement have increased and there are many schemes for people with a low socio-economic status to raise a girl child,” says Kuldeep Singh.
The 12 districts in Haryana with a low CSR where the scheme has been implemented have each been given an annual funding of Rs.1 crore. These are Mahendragarh, Jhajjar, Rewari, Sonipat, Ambala, Kurukshetra, Rohtak, Karnal, Yamunanagar, Kaithal, Bhiwani and Panipat.
Activists say that one year isn’t enough to gauge visible results but it is an indicator of whether the scheme is heading in the right direction.
“Steps are being taken at a very superficial level. Focus has to shift to the reasons behind not wanting a girl child. The practice of dowry and the unsafe environment in which girls grow up deter parents from raising girls,” says Jagmati Sangwan, general secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).
Even Bhagwati Pur’s neighbouring village, Lakhanmajra, has seen the sex ratio at birth decline from 851.49 in 2013 to 797.98 in 2015.
There are successes, too. Four out of the 12 districts where Beti Bachao is being implemented recorded a sex ratio of above 900, data for December show. In Karnal, the ratio improved from 820 in Census 2011 to 959, Sonipat from 790 to 942 while in Bhiwani and Mahendragarh, it increased to 912 from 831 and 778, respectively. Though Jhajjar showed an improvement from 774 to 794 girls for every 1,000 boys, it still stood at bottom of the list.
Even in Bhagwati Pur, all may be not lost, as shown by a heart-warming anecdote. Karamvir Singh, 61, and his wife Krishna, 55, who had a granddaughter on 8 November last year, can’t contain their happiness while introducing the two-month-old.
“Daughters are way more caring and affectionate than sons. They are no less than boys in any way. I don’t see why people have a problem with raising girls,” says Singh, who also ardently follows the Beti Bachao advertisements on TV.