Steady rise in Child Sex Ratio in Haryana's Jhajjar gives BJP ammo to counter criticism of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign

Awareness regarding protecting and educating girl children due to Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign and legal actions against those practising female infanticide helped improve Child Sex Ratio in Haryana

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Rohtak: Four-year-old, Khushi is playing with her grandmother Rani Devi in Dighal village of Jhajjar district in Haryana. Forty-eight-year-old Rani hopes the little girl grows up to become a strong and successful wrestler like Geeta Phogat.

Eight years ago, no one would have had this aspiration for a girl child in Jhajjar. According to Census 2011, Jhajjar was among the worst performing districts in the state in terms of Child Sex Ratio (CSR) at 782 in 2011 compared to 800 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001. Together with Rewari and Kurukshetra, they had the lowest sex ratio in the country, sending Haryana to the bottom among Indian states.

It is to improve these numbers and promote gender equality that in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign from Sonipat. How effective the scheme has been on the national-level is debatable, but the BJP certainly hasn’t shied away from talking about its success. And the government has decided to extend to the scheme to all 640 districts in India. The scheme was rolled out in 161 districts in two phases and in 53 of them, the CSR actually saw a decline. But in Haryana’s case, at least, the results are not up for debate.

The state’s CSR has steadily and remarkably improved, as per the state health department's Auxiliary Nursing Midwife (ANM) report, and Jhajjar rural especially has seen the number improve from 784 in 2013 and 834 in 2016 to 883 in 2017 and 923.5 in 2019.

File image of Jhajjhar community health centre

File image of Jhajjhar community health centre

Awareness regarding protecting and educating girl children has increased since the launch of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign, according to local healthcare workers and professionals.

In 2019, Dighal village had a CSR of 1,647:1000, and it is doing a lot better than neighbouring villages, where the numbers are less than 700.

Speaking to this correspondent, Rani said that the mindset of today’s generation has changed for the better. “This new generation does not find anything wrong with having a girl child as lots of girls dominate in fields like sports, education and the civil services,” she said.

However, the older generation is resisting the change and continues to prefer boys over girls. “There is no fuss or sadness if the first born is a girl. But, people still want to have a boy as a second child. This thinking needs to change and that is taking time,” she added based on her experience dealing with her peers.

As per ANM records, Dighal Community Health Centre has about 27 villages, of which nine have CSR above 1,000, nine others are below 1,000, but under control, while nine have reported dismal growth rate and are marked red.

The heavy hand of the law

After Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, legal actions have been initiated against those practising female infanticide or using prenatal scanning to determine the sex of a child, including doctors, quacks in rural areas, pregnant women and family members under the PC-PNDT Act. Under the act, 459 raids were conducted across Haryana, of which 80 were across state lines.

According to a 2018 state government press release, the Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) in 2016 was 871 girls for 1,000 boys, in 2015 it improved to 900 girls per 1,000 boys. Officials claimed that it registered 82 points due to several interventions including raids at suspected ultrasound centres, FIRs against more than 200 people and awareness programmes organised at the village level.

Besides, support of local women has also helped the state health department make headway to check on scanning centres that conduct prenatal sex determination tests.

Reena Phogat, a local woman helped the department crack three cases of errant ultrasound centres. The mother of two girls, Reena said that during both pregnancies she helped the health department by posing as a decoy looking to get a sex determination screening done at ultrasound centres in Bhiwani. In both cases, a doctor and a quack were arrested.

Malti Devi, a multi-purpose-health worker at Dighal Public Health Centre said that after the launch of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign, locals were initially defensive and resisted any change, accusing these workers of interfering in family affairs.

“For awareness, we need to educate mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law together that boys and girls are equal and gender determination is illegal,” she said.

"Though most daughters-in-law were in agreement with what was being told, their mothers-in-law were pressuring them to have boy children to carry the family name forward," Malti added.

Jhajjar Chief Medical Officer Dr Randeep Singh Poonia attributed the decline in female infanticide to the awareness created by the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign and the deterrence created by health department officials by filing FIRs.

“Health department had even gone to the length of working with decoy customers to catch culprits in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and filing a case against ultrasound centres, doctors and employees of these centres,” he added.

Sex ratio in Jhajjar

Sex ratio in Jhajjar

More show than tell?

Ram Mehar, a 66-year-old village elder in Dighal, was keen to discuss the political fortune of candidates contesting from the Rohtak Lok Sabha constituency. While he and other locals had several issues that they considered crucial to the polls, ranging from power to irrigation, jobs and caste-based discrimination specifically related to the incumbent BJP government. Improved gender ratio or CSR was not among the top concerns in villages.

On being informed about the improved SRB in Dighal, Ram said that it has never been a poll issue and would never be. “Boy or girl, it is our choice to make. The government is responsible for development work. CSR imbalance is a social issue and the government cannot do much,” he added.

Pradeep Ahlawat, another village elder said that no one would listen to a politician, if he raises issues about CSR, as it is unpopular and would impact the ego of locals.

“Who would want to offend people during election time?” he asked.

The Beti Bacho Beti Padhao scheme came under controversy earlier this year when an answer to a question in Lok Sabha revealed that while nearly 20 percent of funds under the scheme remained unused, over 56 percent of the funds allocated under the scheme from 2014-15 to 2018-19 were in fact spent on "media-related activities". Less than 25 percent of 644 crores allocated for the scheme was released to the states and UTs.

According to data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the central government has spent Rs 364 crore since 2014 to advertise the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign instead of concrete interventions in education and health sectors.

It is interesting to note that in 2018, the C&AG criticised the government for its failure in spending a significant portion of the budget allocated for the scheme. "Audit noticed that the emphasis of the ministry was merely on exhausting the allocated budget by the release of funds rather than on the basis of the position of actual utilisation of earlier release,” the report noted.

It was after this that bulk of the funds seemed to have been channelled into advertising.

Rajiv Jain, media advisor to Chief Minister ML Khattar defended the huge spending of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao project on media advertisement by saying that it is a social problem and media fund was meant for spreading awareness among the masses and the projects undertaken by the Centre were showcased in media advertisements.

Reacting on splurging huge fund on media advertisement of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao project, Congress' three-time MP and Rohtak Lok Sabha candidate, Deepender Singh Hooda said that by reducing a serious issue of saving the girl child into a PR stunt, the BJP government showed more interest in making claims rather than work on the ground.

While the state barely received any funds from the scheme, Haryana already had some schemes running at various levels of efficiency to save the girl child. But the BJP government in the state is generous in apportioning credit for Haryana’s figures to the Centre.

The author is a Rohtak-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters

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