FOCUS Choosing the symbolic seven billionth baby from U.P. this week is part of an initiative to sponsor six more baby girls from the State, says Plan India Executive Director Bhagyashree Dengle
T his week, the world population surpassed seven billion. With many countries choosing their own symbolic seven billionth baby, it is no wonder that when it came to choosing the Indian newborn to mark the occasion, it was Nargis from Uttar Pradesh, the largest State where 11 babies reportedly are born every minute. And yet, U.P. has pathetic figures to show when it comes to gender ratio. There are 899 girls against 1000 boys in that Northern State. No great riddle why. Rampant female foeticide and secret sex-selective abortions have led U.P. to this sorry situation today.
So, in the fitness of things, child rights organisation Plan India came up with the idea of choosing a baby girl from a poor family, and Nargis, born in the periphery of Lucknow, became the symbolic seven billionth child from India. Bhagyashree Dengle, Plan India Executive Director, highlights the reason for taking up the initiative: “We are the world's emerging economic superpower, estimated to overtake China to become the most populous nation by 2030, and we have seven million girls ‘missing' from our population. U.P. has the largest number of ‘missing girls'. This initiative is to galvanise action to address the issue of female foeticide in India and in that State in particular.”
Not to let the focus waver in course of time, Plan India has roped in seven well-known women from different walks of life to pursue the initiative titled “Baby Seven Billion”. “These seven women will sponsor seven baby girls — including Nargis — from the same village, Dhanaur in Mall block on the outskirts of Lucknow. The area has one of the lowest gender ratios in the State. Each sponsor will contribute Rs.12,000 annually (Rs.1000 a month) for these seven baby girls for the next seven years to ensure their well being,” says Dengle. Musician Anoushka Shanker, businesswoman Arti Kirloskar, environmentalist Sunita Narain, dancer-choreographer Mallika Sarabhai and conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah are part of this initiative. The NGO chose the babies along with its State partner Vatsalya on October 31.Dengle, says Arti Kirloskar, also Secretary, Plan India Board, is spearheading the initiative. “Each of these baby girls was given a birth certificate at a sponsorship function organised in the village on October 31. Giving a birth certificate is important because it is a proof of their existence; it is also a kind of acknowledgement from the State that the child matters,” says Dengle. Quoting a report Plan India has recently compiled on the state of the girl child in India, Dengle says, “We are now increasingly focussing on engaging men and boys in advancing gender equality. Our report, compiled after interviewing over 6,000 respondents, both males and females between the age group of 10 and 35 in Delhi, U.P., Bihar, Gujarat and Karnataka, highlights this need.”
Adolescents in all 10 States in which Plan India is present, she adds, are being targeted to drill into them the knowledge why gender equality is important.
“It is vital to address the adolescents as they are conditioned by the society that girls are secondary to boys. Both boys and girls begin to believe this. This is one reason why many wives quietly take it when their husbands beat them. So breaking such stereotypes at adolescence will definitely show results.”
SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY