The Class IV girl stands next to the blackboard and recites, “P O T…pot, H O T…hot”. The boys in the classroom repeat in chorus. At first glance, nothing seems unusual in this classroom of the government primary school at Moda village in Punjab’s Mansa district. But a closer look shows the grim picture of the village’s child sex ratio. Seema, 8, is the only girl in her school.
The village, located on Punjab-Haryana border and dominated by Jatt zamindar community, is among villages with critically low child sex ratio — only 389 girls per 1,000 boys as per the latest village-wise survey of children in the 0-6 years age group. Mansa district is under surveillance since ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ programme was launched. But as per latest figures, the child sex ratio (by birth) has dropped 31 points — from 925 last year to 894.
Seema, whose parents are labourers, has reasons to complain for being the only girl in school. “Boys talk to me. We play together. But more girls would be much better. I have to go to washroom alone. A girl can help me with the skipping rope. Boys don’t show much interest in skipping rope.”
Inderjit Singh, head teacher at the school, said, “Of the 11 students in the school, 10 are boys. Since I joined in 2012, there have been only eight girl students in five years. Seema tries to mingle with the boys, but I can see she feels uncomfortable sometimes.” Balwinder Singh (41), a resident of the village who has two daughters, aged 16 and 14 and a son aged 7, says “with increasing expenditure and smaller land holdings, it is difficult to raise a girl here”.
“I went for a third child after two daughters 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 difficult. They have to go Mansa for higher education,” he said, adding, “Who will carry forward our vansh if there is no son?”
Another village resident Bintu Singh said, “A secondary school for girls has started this year in Fatehpur, 2 km from here. A private one is in Jhunir, 10 km away. For college, girls have to go to district headquarters Mansa, 35 km away. And there is no bus service. So, hardly any girl went out to study after Class V.”
“No one in our village goes for a child after a boy, but keep trying for a boy if a girl is born. It’s not that people here hate daughters, but everyone definitely wants a son,” added Bintu. Rani Kaur, 70, a caretaker at the village anganwadi has four daughters. “If I had a son, I would not be slogging at this age,” she said.
Village sarpanch Sandeep and his two brothers had four daughters in all before they had a son each. He blames “nature” for the skewed sex ratio in the village. “Recently, more boys have been born in our village. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with our people. We are a small village with just 70 households,” said Sandeep, who has studied till Class VIII.
The district administration has prepared a list of reasons for low child sex ratio in Mansa. These include 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.
Deputy commissioner Dharampal Gupta says, “Lack of awareness is the only reason for the low child sex ratio in Mansa. Change is happening and soon it will be visible in numbers. We have intensified the Beti Bachao campaign here.”