Updated: December 25, 2017 3:38:42 pm
THREE-YEAR-OLD Arshdeep Kaur giggles as she dances across her two-room home on the premises of the gurdwara at Lande Rode village in Punjab’s Muktsar district, where her father, Shaminder Singh, 35, works as a granthi (head priest).
Arshdeep is an anomaly in this village where the male child is celebrated and the girl child shunned, as a result of which, it has been grappling with a deteriorating child sex ratio at birth.
According to the latest figures released under the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign this October, Muktsar district with a child sex ratio at birth of 889 this year, down from 896 the previous year, is the worst among six Punjab districts that have shown a decline in numbers. Lande Rode in Mukstar’s Chak Shere Wala block is the worst performer — the village has a mere 491 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age category.
Which is why, the decision of Shaminder and his wife Manjinder Kaur (33), to adopt Arshdeep after having two sons, sent ripples across the village. Arshdeep was just three days old when she was welcomed to the Kaur’s home; now, she is the pampered younger sister of her brothers — Akashdeep, 10, and Avinashdeep, 7.
“We did not have our own third child as there might have been a son again. We wanted a daughter. My sons always wanted a sister and so we decided to adopt. Now, the situation is such that she is more of my child than my sons,” says Shaminder.
The couple says there was no opposition to their decision from their families. “Everyone was very happy. We had organised a special ardaas and invited everyone in the village for a feast,” says Shaminder, who earns Rs 4,000 a month.
He says “he may not be able to give Arshdeep a luxurious life” but adds that he has never differentiated between her and his sons. “If we go shopping, I refuse things to my sons but never to her. I just cannot say no to her,” he says.
Shaminder believes that the skewed sex ratio is due to the prevalent mindset that girls are “financial liabilities,” while the ideal is to have just one son.
“The fact is that once a son is born, no one here goes for another child. Most importantly, people here consider girls as a financial liability. They think about her dowry before her education. Also, the mentality is that if there is just one son, there will be no property disputes or division of land,” he says.
There is also a belief in the village that male children are only born to the rich. “Most zamindar families in our village don’t have daughters. They can afford the daughters but they aren’t born to them. It is only the poor, already living hand-to-mouth, who keep getting daughters,” says Nirmaljeet Kaur, an anganwadi worker.
She, however, hints that it may not all be down to evolutionary chance. “What people do in private hospitals at their own level, I cannot comment on. We try to maintain records of all pregnant women for vaccination and check-up, but the women try to hide their pregnancies. Sometimes, we do not know until they are four months pregnant. What can we do if someone gets an abortion at private hospitals,” asks Kaur.
Dr Sukhpal Singh, civil surgeon in Muktsar admits that loopholes in the implementation of PNDT Act is one of the reasons for the abysmally low sex ratio in the district. “We are implementing the act strictly now. Doctors in private clinics, still conducting sex determination tests and abortions are being booked,” he says.
Muktsar Deputy Commissioner Sumit Jarangal says that the “administration is cracking down on private hospitals and nursing homes”. “We are taking strict action against doctors for illegal activities,” he says. But, he adds, the real battle is to change social attitudes. “It’s all part of culture in Punjab, where sons are preferred over daughters. It is imbibed in the mentality. This transformation of mindsets will take time,” he says.
While village sarpanch Parminder Kaur refused to comment, her husband Pooran Singh, who “handles all her work,” claimed that the “situation has improved”. “We are honouring parents of newborn girls and celebrating their Lohri,” he says.
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