“This is the way you will celebrate the birth of girls under the leadership of the village head: gather at a public place, sing songs of birth, plant trees in their name and issue birth certificates to them.” These are some of the instructions mentioned in a September 2 order issued by the Bihar government.

With a view to spread awareness about gender issues and in light of the declining sex ration in the State, the Panchayati Raj department ordered district magistrates and district Panchayati Raj officials to observe ‘Bitiya Janmotsav’ (celebration of birth of girl children) during gram sabha meetings. The initiative is part of the ‘Beti Zindabad’ (Hail the Girl Child) campaign of the non-profit organisation, ActionAid India. Bihar is the latest State to endorse this campaign, which has been backed by 14 other States.

Gram sabha meetings are slated to take place on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, 2013 and Republic Day on January 26, 2014. The order also prescribes measures to spread awareness about crimes against women, such as sex-selection, child marriage, domestic violence, rape, assault and witch-hunt. It raises concerns over the poor sex ratio and the child sex ratio in the State, which have declined, according to the 2011 Census.

“Moreover,” said Vinay Odhar, Regional Manager (Bihar) of ActionAid India, “the sex ratio at birth in Bihar between 2007 and 2009 was 917, instead of 952 [an accepted standard]. That means for 1,000 male births, there are only 917 girls are being born. In this manner, nearly 70,000 girls go missing in Bihar every year. For India this figure is nearly six lakh.”

“We’re very hopeful that with such support from the government we will really be able to reach out to many more villages and also cities where sex-selection is rampant,” he added.

While welcoming the move, All India Democratic Women’s Association State president Rampari struck a note of caution, saying: “This is a very good initiative by the government, however, we hope this is implemented and does not remain on paper like all other schemes. We only read about such efforts in the press, but on the ground, when we go to the villages, you don’t see their implementation. On the issue of sex selection, for instance, the government has formed district and State-level advisory committees. They have not had held the any meeting so far.”