She wears the pants and mingles with the boys in her class. She takes a lead and recites the lessons to them while standing near the blackboard. The boys repeat in a chorus….’P O T… pot. H O T.. hot’. In a tattered single classroom of the government primary school of village Moda in district Mansa, there seems nothing unusual at the first glance. A glance again and the classroom paints the grim picture of village’s skewed child sex ratio.
Seema (8), the Class 4 girl in the pants, is the only girl in her school. The village, located at the Punjab-Haryana border and dominated by Jatt zamindar community with hardly any SCs/STs, is among the villages with critically low child sex ratio (CSR), with just 389 girls per 1,000 boys as per the latest village-wise survey of children in the age group of 0-6 years.
Mansa district too is under continuous surveillance since ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ was launched in the country. But as per the latest child sex ratio (by birth) figures, the CSR, instead of increasing, has dropped steeply 31 points, from 925 last year to 894 now. Meanwhile, Seema, whose parents work as labourers, has her own reasons to complain for being the only girl in her school. “Boys talk to me. We play together.
But more girls would be much better. I have to go washroom alone now. I can talk to her continuously and then she can also help me in rope-skipping. Boys do not show much interest in rope-skipping in my class,” says Seema, whose younger brother Roshan was first sent to a “better” private school but then shifted to government one with Seema.
The dilapidated school building has water-seeped blue walls with paint peeling off and no benches to sit for kids. But a freshly painted logo of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ on its shabby walls points towards a larger problem in the village whose residents say it is “too difficult to educate or marry a girl in their village”.
Inderjit Singh, the head teacher at the school, says, “Of the 11 students in our school, 10 are boys. This says a lot. There is no secondary or high school and for girls after V class, it gets tough to continue studies. Some parents send children to private school. Since I joined in 2012, there have been only eight girl students in five years. Seema tries to mingle with boys, but I can see she feels uncomfortable sometimes. All boys have someone to talk, but she feels alone.” Village residents say girls are a “bigger responsibility with increasing expenditures and lessening income”. Hardly anyone goes for a second child if a boy is born but “chances” have to be taken to have a son, they say.
In the list of reasons that villagers here list to have a boy include: Who will take care of ancestral property after our death? Who will take family’s name forward? How can we see the family’s name and existence getting vanished from the village… and more. Balwinder Singh (41), having two daughters aged 16 and 14 and a son aged 7, says that “with increasing expenditure, smaller land holdings and no scope in village for girl’s education, it is harder to raise a girl here”.
“Let me talk like Jatts now, loud and clear. There is no reason to hide or manipulate anything. Yes, I went for third child after two girls because I wanted a son. We need at least Rs 20 lakh for dowry if a girl has to be married. Even getting a girl educated here is so difficult. Girls have to go Mansa for higher education. Who will carry forward our vansh if there is no son. Pigeons will occupy my home after my death,” he says.
“A secondary school for girls in Fatehpur, 2 kilometres from here, has started this year only. Otherwise a private one in Jhunir is 10 kilometres away. For college, girls have to go to district headquarters Mansa, travelling 35 kms. Then there is no bus service. So, hardly any girls went out to study after Class V earlier,” says Bintu Singh. Also, there is no health centre or any nursing home and pregnant women travel far for deliveries. “No one in our village goes for a child after a boy. They keep on having children if a girl is born till there is no boy. This is how it is. It’s not that people here hate daughters, but then everyone definitely wants a son,” adds Bintu.
70-year old Rani Kaur, a caretaker at village aangwandi, repents not having a “son” after four daughters. “Had there been a son, I would not have been slogging at this age,” she says. Recently, the district administration under ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign pasted stickers at the gates of each home saying ‘Dheeyan Puttar Ikk Samaan, Dowein kudrat da vardaan’ (Both sons and daughters are gifts of God). The village sarpanch and his two brothers had four daughters followed by a son each. But he blames ‘nature’ for skewed sex ratio in village. “Recently, more of boys have been born in our village. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with our people. We are a small village with just 70 households,” says Sandeep, who has studied till class VIII.
His mother Jaspal Kaur, 60, says she accepted her four grand-daughters happily but certainly wanted their parents to go for another baby. “Jo bhagwaan ne deta theek hai.(It is okay whatever God gave us). We never differentiated between the children. But luckily, my three sons had boys after girls. We had more boys born in village recently,” she says.
The district administration has prepared a list of reasons prepared for low CSR in Mansa which includes: age-old preference for male child, dowry, pyre lighting by male child, mindset that girls are ‘paraaya dhan’, patrilineal inheritance, increasing expenditure on girl’s marriage and sex-determination tests by doctors. Deputy commissioner Mansa Dharampal Gupta says, “Lack of awareness is the only reason for low CSR in Mansa. There is no other reason. Change is happening and soon it will be visible in numbers too. We have intensified Beti Bachao campaign and parents of newborn girls are being honored.”