Till two years ago, this village in Rajasthan was fighting for the right to abort baby girls. Today, the families herald her birth with fanfare and festivity. What changed?
In 2011, in Mohanpura village, Chinderpal Kaur, an articulate and aggressive anganwadi leader, was all set to get the Panchayat to pass a resolution that made sex-selective abortion legal. “It should be the right of parents to decide how many girls they want,” she thundered. “In rural India, a family has no future without at least one son.”
Eight months later, Kaur has taken an oath in front of the community that she will never again motivate families for sex-selective abortion.
What made Kaur undergo this transformation? The Let Girls Be Born (LGBB) project of Plan India and Urmul Setu was started only in March 2011 but is already showing dramatic results with Kaur and dozens of other families in Ganganagar, Rajasthan.
LGBB works through both motivation and practical solutions. LGBB Panchayat coordinators work closely with anganwadi workers and ASHAs (accredited social health activists) to monitor pregnancies and discourage sex selection. The result is many women who have two or even five daughters are no longer secretly terminating pregnancies. Instead, they have the child and, if it is a daughter or twin daughters and the parents cannot cope, a new home is found for the baby girl.
In Ganganagar, the husband-and-wife team of Nisha and Vikram Singh are the project and block coordinators, respectively, for the LGBB campaign. They believe in leading by example. In the days when Kaur was stridently advocating sex-selective abortion, Nisha and her team made many trips to Mohanpura to point out that sex selection was illegal and Kaur could be prosecuted.
In November 2011, Kaur’s daughter Ruby gave birth to twin girls. She already had a four-year-old daughter. The family was clearly unhappy. It was then that Nisha suggested that one of the twins be given up for adoption. Kaur turned around and asked Nisha if she would adopt a twin. For Nisha, this was the ultimate test of her commitment. Although she had no help at home to care for a baby, she spontaneously agreed. Husband Vikram and her in-laws also readily welcomed the adoption.
Vikram and Nisha had been married for 16 years and had given up hope of having children, focussing instead on their social work. Today, the year-and-a-half Bhumika is the mascot of the LGBB campaign, present at all strategy meetings, flitting from one lap to another.
Drawing on the example of Nisha and Vikram, five other couples have adopted baby girls from poor families that already had two, three or four daughters. Like Kaur, several women in the community have taken oaths to protect the girl child and not demand sex selection. The campaign to change the mindset of the community has worked.
Take the remarkable story of Gurutej Singh. This 17-year-old boy, a member of the youth wing of LGBB in Rotawali village, was visiting his grandparents in Taliwala village in Ferozepur, Punjab in 2012 when he heard that the mother of twin girls born to a neighbour had died in childbirth. The distraught family decided to give up the twins to an orphanage so that the father could remarry.
Gurutej stepped in impulsively and said his family would adopt one of the girls. He called his mother Manjit Kaur to ask if she would, and she rushed to Taliwala to help Gurutej bring home the 15-day-old baby. Little Khushi came into their lives, a bundle wrapped in cloth, too weak to utter a sound. Gurutej’s father, Gurmail Singh, is a farm labourer, his mother is 42, and he has two older brothers aged 21 and 19. The eldest brother runs a grocery store and the younger one is in school. Manjit has stopped working in the fields so that she can look after Khushi while Gurutej, who is studying privately, polishes marble and earns Rs. 500 a day to help support his little sister.
Rotawali village turned up in full force to welcome Khushi. Emulating Gurutej, two other families in the village have adopted little girls. The Rotawali Gram Panchayat and the Beti Bachao Abhiyan have applauded Gurutej’s spontaneous act. Seema and Suresh of Banda colony in Ganganagar city adopted Mehak in February this year. Karamjit Kaur and Sukhjinder Singh of Rotawali village adopted a twin girl from Col Kheda Village in Punjab in March. Chinder Kaur and Amarjeet Singh of Dhanewala village adopted Disha in April.
Meanwhile, in Mohanpura village, another newborn baby awaits adoption. Says Nisha, “I have taken on the responsibility to find her a home. Families in Jaipur and Bikaner are now ready to adopt girls.” The change is evident, says Chinderpal Kaur. Between November 2012 and April 2013, 29 boys and 38 girls were born in her village, with not one girl aborted.
Traditionally, families here sound a thali or brass plate to welcome the birth of baby boys. Today, the happy resonance of the thali is heard in hospitals, roadsides, and homes when girls are born. Parents, grandparents, neighbours and even nurses take turns to beat the brass plate and herald the birth.
_ Spangle Public School in Ganganagar honoured 50 families in the district who have only daughters. The school has assured free education for at least one girl in each family.
_ In Ganganagar, Kanya Lohris are celebrated to honour parents of newborn girls.
_ The village Panchayat gives families a samman patra orcongratulatory letter.
_ The Chamber of Commerce has aligned with the Gurudwara Committee and local educational institutes to provide free schooling.