Following a dismal child sex ratio history, steps undertaken in Sri Ganganagar district in Rajasthan to save the girl child can serve as role model for other regions
In the 1991 Census, Sri Ganganagar district in Rajasthan recorded a child sex ratio of 890 females for every 1,000 males in the 0-6 year age group. In 2001, the ratio plummeted to 850:1000 — the worst across the State. However, in the 2011 provisional Census data, Sri Ganganagar is the only district in all of the 33 districts in Rajasthan that has shown a rise of four points in the sex ratio that now stands at 854.
Initially the issue evinced negligible interest but persistent efforts slowly led to the building of a positive environment. The role of the panchayats has been vital especially in the rural areas where warning letters were sent out to all the clinics in their jurisdiction. Several panchayats have initiated the practice of sending out congratulatory letters to the parents of newborn daughters and felicitating couples who choose to undergo terminal family planning on the birth of one or two daughters. Last rites by daughters are being encouraged and birth of daughters celebrated with the beating of the metal plate or thali, a practice hitherto reserved for births of sons.
The intervention of a non-profit outfit URMUL through sensitisation and mobilisation of the community on the issue of sex selection and proper implementation of the law played an important role good start. Sri Ganganagar Chamber of Commerce initiated the kanya lohri in 2007. Lohri, a festival reserved for celebrating the male child was rechristened for the girl child.
Media, too, has kept the issue alive. The community leaders take up the issue in their forums. The temples and gurudwaras encouraged their communities to form a positive view about the girl child through relevant quotes from the scriptures and through pledging against sex selection and discrimination.
The Sri Ganganagar model showed that a synergy has to be created among all groups and individuals so that the sum of combined effort is larger than the collection of separate efforts. Here, it was mostly individual officers in the administration who believed in the cause and provided support; the Collector and the Additional District Magistrate were especially supportive so that the Chief Medical Officer and members of civil society could meet on common ground.
Again, the feeling of ownership by the community that makes the effort self-sustaining without much outside help is a vital requirement. The unique selling point of the Sri Ganganagar model is the community ownership but efforts need to be regularly fuelled as the situation is still precarious. The issue demands constant vigilance and one cannot say the strategies have become self-sustaining.
Such a process can be a model for replication in other regions of Rajasthan and in other States, particularly neighbouring Punjab and Haryana, where the practice of sex-selective abortions is rampant. There is hope for the disappearing girl child if such concerted, dedicated and multi-pronged efforts are replicated and sustained and taken over by the local community.
(Dr. Meeta Singh is chairperson of Dignity of Girl Child Foundation and Prahlad Shekhawat is director of Alternative Development and Research Center, Jaipur)