The Centre has indicated that it seeks to replicate nationally the ‘Beti Bachao Abhiyan’ or ‘Save the Girl Child’ campaign of the Gujarat government. However, impact of the drive on improving the poor sex ratio in the State is still unclear with experts pointing out that the campaign has not moved beyond pursuing an awareness agenda.
Prime Minister and former Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi started the campaign in 2005 to address the issue of gender imbalance. The 2001 Census revealed an alarming drop in the sex ratio from 934 to 920 women per 1,000 males. The child sex ratio also dipped from 928 to 883.
However, six years of implementation of the campaign could not make any dent in the skewed sex ratio of Gujarat. By the time of Census 2011, sex ratio in Gujarat decreased by one point to 919 women per 1,000 men.
“In rural areas it increased by four points from 945 in 2001 to 949 in 2011, while in urban areas it remained at 880 in 2011 i.e., at the level of 2001,” as per the State’s Socio-Economic Review 2013-2014.
The child sex ratio (0-6 years) improved only marginally, but for the first time in five decades, from 883 in 2001 to 890 in 2011.
Not only are these ratios lower than the national averages, Gujarat has not been able to reach its own tally of previous years.
The Socio-Economic Review states: “Since the formation of the Gujarat State, i.e., from 1961, the sex ratio of the State has a decreasing trend except in1981 Census. The Dangs district is showing a steady increasing trend, whereas Surat district is showing a steady declining trend since 1961.”
While officials say that it would take about a decade or two for the result of the campaign to take effect, academics note that the campaign needs a more concrete thrust to address the deep-rooted malaise.
“Dowry is the main cause of female foeticide. Almost 95 per cent of the cases of sex selection are from the ‘Patel’ community, which traditionally has been upwardly mobile,” says Prof. M.H. Makwana, Head of Department of Sociology, Gujarat University.
The dominant and prosperous ‘Patel’ community, who has a big stake in the power and resources of the State, has also taken an initiative in the campaign.
“The Patels are also worried about the issue and have spearheaded awareness programmes, organising meetings, discussions, rallies and contests. Awareness apart, the government has not undertaken any concrete programmes to tackle the issue of skewed sex ratio. I do not know why this campaign is considered a model when Haryana and Punjab have shown greater improvements. In Maharashtra and some other States, doctors conducting illegal sex determination tests have been put behind bars, but not in Gujarat. Here a majority of the doctors are also Patels,” says Gaurang Jani, lecturer Gujarat University.
Even at the level of awareness, the government did not focus on social science and language textbooks to disseminate ideas of gender equality, he says.