How a Telangana village is banishing dogmas, celebrating the girl child
For the first time in at least five years, Haridaspur village in Telangana’s Sangareddy district, that always maintained a gender disparity, witnessed a reversal in the trend in 2020.
Eight girls were born against six male children last year. Courtesy, an initiative of the village panchayat to celebrate every girl’s birth and to open a Sukanya Samruddhi Yojana account for every eligible girl. The birth of all the eight girls was received warmly by villagers. When a girl was born, people assembled at the panchayat office, enjoyed sweets and walked down to the child’s home to congratulate her parents.
The village unanimously gives credit for the change in the attitude towards girls to Bhavya Sree, now 14 months old.
How could a little baby bring change in the age-old mindset of a village?
On the day Bhavya was born, village Sarpanch Mohammed Shafi and other ward members were on a door-to-door campaign, visiting houses and asking people to participate in the panchayat’s green village initiative. When they stepped into Bhavya’s house, the situation seemed tense.
“Tempers were running high. After inquiring, we came to know that the couple had a girl child in the third issue even though they were praying for a male child this time around. We returned without interacting with them,” recalls Shafi.
At the panchayat office, Shafi and his eight ward members had a meeting with village secretary Kulkarni to discuss the village’s response to the situation. Despite being high school dropouts, what Shafi and the other elected leaders had in common was a zeal to work for the village and they knew it was time girls got their due. It was then that Kulkarni came up with the idea that the girl’s birth be celebrated by the entire village. He and Shafi pooled money from their pockets, decorated the panchayat office, and arranged sweets for all the villagers.
“Apart from the celebration, we offered a ₹1,000 cheque to her (Bhavya’s) father Nagesh, asking him to open a Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana (SSY) account for her. The panchayat volunteered to deposit money in the account for the initial five months, after which the parents should continue the process. The disappointment vanished from Nagesh’s face. He was seen enjoying the moment as all fellow villagers accorded his daughter a grand welcome,” a ward member recounted while narrating the episode to The Federal’s correspondent.
Shafi and Kulkarni knew that one more girl from Nagesh’s family is eligible for the SSY scheme (two from every family are eligible), so they opened an account for the second daughter as well. The couple is now ensuring that the accounts are in operation.
Later, a couple of philanthropists came forward to fund the coverage of all eligible girls in the village under the scheme. The panchayat identified 86 girls and the initial deposit amount was contributed by the good Samaritans. While passbooks were handed over to 50 girls, the rest are under process. Another philanthropist has offered ₹40,000 this week for the same cause.
“Our village’s approach towards gender changed after Bhavya’s episode,” Shafi says, giving the whole credit for the change in the mindset to the little girl.
Situated about 80 km away from the state capital Hyderabad, Haridaspur has a population of 813. It has always maintained a gender disparity with 88 women for every 100 men till last year.
While there are 72 male youths in the 16-25 years age group, there are only 22 females in the same age group.
Lack of parity in gender was visible even in school enrolment. Of the 46 students in the school run by the panchayat, only 16 are girls. Of the 80 new births in the preceding four years (2016 to 19), girls were only 36.
Speaking about the mindset of villagers like her before the panchayat’s initiative last year, Bhavya’s grandmother said, “We were desperate that my daughter should have a son. Finally, Bhavya was born.” Even though the family was worried at first over the birth of another girl, the panchayat’s initiative completely changed their outlook towards the girl child.
“We are now happy with the joy spread by the three girls,” Bhavya’s grandmother added.
In yet another reformative measure, last year, the village’s youth took an oath against marrying before attaining the legal age.
“The idea of celebrating the birth of every girl worked like a magic wand. The mothers are not worried about facing the anger of in-laws for giving birth to a female child,” says CS Rangarajan, the chief priest of the famous Chilkur Balaji temple. Last week, he conducted ‘Balika Vandanam’ programme, where girls are honoured as the human form of the Goddess.