This village welcomes girl child with a certificate

Many campaigns and concerted efforts to educate people against female foeticide seems to be yielding results, rather too slowly. Girl child is unwelcome is most places in India, more so in the northern parts of the country, including Rajasthan. It may not be an unusual sight to see relatives mourning the news of the birth of a girl child even today. 

But one village panchayat in Sirohi district in Rajasthan appears to be an exception. Breaking away from the tradition, here, the mother giving birth to a girl is honou­red in Lunole village. This rather new practice has brought in a small but significant change in the neighbouring areas as well. 

Declining sex ratio and the high incidence of sex selection are some of the major challenges facing Rajasthan which has a long history of discrimination against girl child.

According to the 2011 census data, sex ratio in Rajasthan is 926/1,000 while child sex ratio in rural  Rajasthan is 886/1,000, one of the lowest in the country. However, some small community interventions at the grassroots level have made a huge difference in gender sensitisation in some parts of the state. Lunole gram panchayat comes under Revdar block in Sirohi district. The village has a woman sarpanch in Dheli Devi, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste.

The efforts of organisations like the Society for All Round Development (SARD), working in five gram panchayats of the district for the last many years on the issue of maternal hea­lth and sex selection, with the support of PRIA and UNICEF have started showing results. The main purpose of their campaign has been to orient and capacitate panchayats so that they will be able to address viole­nce against women at the local level.

Gram panchayat is a potent body to address the local social issues, including gender-based discriminations. SARD had worked very intensively with the ward members, sarpanches and health workers and has been imparting regular training on health, gender and governance and they were able to create a conducive atmosphere for the girl child.

Sarpanch Dheli Devi remembered an unfortunate incident that prompted the village to think of some concrete measures to remove the bias against the girl child. In January 2011, the villagers found an abandoned female foetus at a hamlet called Bilo ka Was in the village. The incident sent shock waves in the village and the villagers decided to report the matter to the police. Dheli Devi, on receiving information about the incident, filed a complaint at the local Anadara police station demanding a thorough investigation.
She promptly called a meeting in the village and informed the villagers about the heinous crime of aborting female foetus and wanted to identify the family responsible for the act. Villagers were also shocked on hearing the incident as they were involved in the movement of gram panchayat to save the girl child. 

After investigation it was found that people of the village were not involved in the act and it could be someone from the neighbouring village. 

In order to send out a positive message in favour of the girl child, people of Lun­ole panchayat started working on innovative ideas. At the initiative of the panchayat, a campaign was launched to issue congratulatory letters to the paren­ts of the girl child called Betti Jaroslaw Badahi patra. This congratulatory letter is issued by the gram panchayat at a public function to honour the family on the occasion of the birth of a girl child.

The gram panchayat also provides a copy of this Badahi patra to pradhan at the block level so that the pradhan may adopt the same mechanism in other panchayats and a healthy example can be set in society. Badahi patra is issued by the sarpanch at a public function which helps to boost the self-confidence of the couple and also sends out a message at large to society. 

It has proved to be a strong medium that has spread a healthy message against sex selection and discrimination against girl child. Having been encou­raged by the Lunole gram panchayat experiment other gram panchayat of Revdar block also started to issue Badahi patra. Not a single incident of female foeticide has been reported from these villages. In the first 10 months up to October last year, 24 boys and 27 girls were born in Lunole. As per the auxiliary nurse midwife record of 2010, the birth of 28 boys and 25 girls were reported in the village that year while 32 boys and 30 girls were born in 2011. This indicates that sex selection though in a limited scale was prevalent in the village before the start of the campaign.

Vice sarpanch Ganpat Singh said it may be a small step but has made a huge difference in society. Save the girl child movement should be kept alive at the gram panchayat level. It will be a success at the village level as nobody could hide a pregnancy. Societal intervention is the best remedy to correct the imbalance in sex ratio and cases of sex selection. It is necessary to bring transformative changes in society and challenge the 
traditional practices.

Source: DH,P J Joychen, Jaipur, April 14, 2013

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