A Green Stance Against Female Infanticide
In an atmosphere where every news article greets us with stories of girls being tormented, raped, killed or treated like a doormat in one way or another, we can trust India’s “village republics” to bring in some good news from time to time. Some villages in Rajasthan are not just resolving the problem of female infanticide, but also improving the environment of the village with their innovative solutions.
One such village in southern Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district is quietly practicing its own, homegrown brand of Eco-feminism and achieving spectacular results. For the last several years, Piplantri village panchayat has been saving female children and increasing the green cover in and around the village at the same time. Here, villagers plant 111 trees every time a girl is born and the community ensures these trees survive, and attains fruition as the girls grow up.
In the world’s largest democracy, it remains common in some regions for expectant parents to undertake a test to determine the gender of a fetus, and then to abort the girls, whose eventual dowries will be costly for poor families. Boys are also often favored because a girl’s sexual integrity is culturally associated with a family’s honor. Any risk to that integrity must be avoided. In Rajasthan, this phenomenon has created a highly skewed sex ratio: according to the 2011 census for every 1,000 men there were 928 women in the state against a national average of 940. For children aged six and under, the ratio is even more distorted, with 888 girls per 1,000 boys. In Luhavad, villagers have been pledging since last June to save infant girls as part of a program led by Pathan, a former photojournalist, whose approach is to pull out all the stops to celebrate a girl’s birth.
Nipping the Problem in the Bud
The village has taken a proactive stance towards midwifery in the village as soon as it becomes clear that a would-be mother may be expecting a girl. “In villages, people are more connected with nature and hence the experienced ladies do not even need a sonography [ultrasound] machine to detect whether the fetus is a male or female. Based on the cravings and hours of sleep of a pregnant woman, they are able to predict the sex of the fetus,” he explained. “So as soon as we get any information related to a woman’s pregnancy, we start sending anganwadi [public health] workers to her home on the pretext of giving iron or vitamin supplements to the pregnant woman in a bid to keep an eye on the family’s moves.” The sarpanch has gone even further, ensuring a girl born to a poor family can be adopted by a wealthier family that can take care of her needs and fund her education. The policy has had a concrete impact: on January 26, India’s Republic Day, there were celebrations in the town for about 50 couples to whom a girl had been born.
An Eco-friendly Solution
If one tree is planted in Luhavad to celebrate the birth of a girl, 100 trees are planted in Budania village near Jhunjhunu where authorities have adopted a tough stance towards feticide. “We take harsh action against families found guilty of conducting a sex-determination test,” said Randheer Singh, the sarpanch of Budania, the first village where a case has been lodged against a couple accused of female feticide.
Over the last six years, people here have managed to plant over a quarter million trees on the village’s grazing commons- inlcuding neem, sheesham, mango, and many others. On average, 60 girls are born here every year, according to the village’s former sarpanch Shyam Sundar Paliwal, who was instrumental in starting this initiative in the memory of his daughter Kiran, who died a few years ago. In about half these cases, parents are reluctant to accept the girl children, he says. Such families are identified by a village committee comprising the village school principal along with panchayat and Anganwadi members. Rs. 21,000 is collected from the village residents and Rs.10,000 from the girl’s father and this sum of Rs. 31,000 is made into a fixed deposit for the girl, with a maturity period of 20 years.
But this village of 8,000 did not just stop at planting trees and greening their commons. To prevent these trees from being infested with termite, the residents planted over two and a half million Aloevera plants around them. Now these trees, especially the Aloevera, are a source of livelihood for several residents. “Gradually, we realized that aloevera could be processed and marketed in a variety of ways. So we invited some experts and asked them to train our women. “Now residents make and market aloevera products like juice, gel, pickle etc,” he says.
But here’s the best part. “We make these parents sign an affidavit promising that they would not marry her off before the legal age, send her to school regularly and take care of the trees planted in her name,” says Mr. Paliwal. People also plant 11 trees whenever a family member dies.
The village panchayat, which has a studio-recorded anthem and a website of its own, has completely banned alcohol, open grazing of animals and cutting of trees. Villagers claim there has not been any police case here for the last 7-8 years.
Mr. Paliwal recalls the visit of social activist Anna Hazare, who was very happy with the progress made by the village, he says. “But Rajasthan is quite backward in terms of village development compared to panchayats in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra etc. So we need to work hard towards creating more and more empowered villages,” says the former sarpanch, hoping the government listens to him.[Image Attribute: Flickr]