Till 2015, Barna village in Kurukshetra district of Haryana figured among the villages with poorest sex-ratio at birth (SRB) of 548 girls to 1000 boys. By July this year, Barna has touched the SRB of 1,158 and figures among the state’s villages with highest sex-ratio. The phenomenal increase was not easy to achieve.
As on August 29, the village had 56 pregnant women. Out of these, 18 already have a daughter, reveals Gulshan Kumar, an ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) who is carrying with her a register containing the records of all the pregnant women in the village.
“We keep track of all pregnant women to ensure that they do not go in for a sex-determination test or termination of their pregnancy. We indulge in a door-to-door contact programme across the village on a monthly basis and keep track of such pregnancies. Even in a situation, where a medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) is required or has taken place, we keep a record of it”, Gulshan told The Indian Express.
“It was not an easy task to change the psyche of people, especially in the rural areas. Imagine a scenario where the choice of contraception to be adopted by the married women was decided by their mothers-in-law. Repeated counselling, awareness campaigns, crackdown on quacks gradually helped us change people’s psychology,” says Dr Sumita Singh, Medical Officer in the primary health centre in Barna.
The village has two ANMs — Gulshan Kumar and Kamlesh Kumari — who head a team of six Accredited Social Health Activists (or Asha). Each Asha worker has a designated number of houses under her watch. She not only interacts with pregnant women — thus creating awareness about family planning, ensuring timely vaccination and regular monitoring of the pregnancy — but also works as an “informer” for the health department.
“When I had my first daughter, it felt as if the sky had fallen on my head. The way your husband and in-laws look at you gives you shudders. In such circumstances, there is immense pressure to go in for such illegal sex-determination tests. But slowly things have improved. The massive awareness campaign to save girl child in the last few years has definitely made an impact,” said one of the pregnant women of the village who did not want to be identified.
Dr R K Sahai, Deputy Civil Surgeon, Kurukshetra has been spearheading the crackdown on quacks and doctors indulging in sex determination tests and illegal termination of pregnancies. “These Asha workers have always been a great help. In fact, there was one Asha worker who led us to conduct three successful raids. She earned Rs 3 lakh as reward money. Unfortunately, she is no more now,” says Dr Sahai. Haryana government gives a cash reward of Rs 1 lakh to the person giving information on illegal sex-determination tests or illegal termination of pregnancy.
“It is a multi-pronged strategy. While Asha workers maintain the contact with pregnant women and their families, ANMs supervise and ensure early registration of the pregnancy, doctors at PHC provide adequate medical care to the pregnant women and then we conduct raids leaving no scope for anybody to go in for an illegal sex-determination test, even if anybody wants it,” Dr Sahai added.
The village’s primary school also reveals the gradually changing sex-ratio. As compared to 74 girls to 91 boys in 2018, there are 83 girls to 94 boys currently enrolled in the school. “There has been a visible improvement in the sex-ratio over the last few years. We have more girls enrolling in our school. Also, I believe, it is not only here in our village but across the state. I feel that awareness and massive advertisement-campaigns on Beti Bachao Beti Padhao has helped change people’s mindset,” says Pawan Kumar, the school principal.
Dr G L Singhal, the nodal officer in Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (B3P) secretariat, says, “On August 28, we conducted a successful raid and nabbed six persons for operating a nexus of illegal sex-determination tests in Delhi. Teams of Rohtak, Charkhi Dadri and Delhi jointly conducted the operation with the help of a Rohtak based pregnant woman who was used as a decoy… We have conducted over a 1,000 such raids across Haryana and in neighbouring states. It surely has worked as a deterrent.”