The gram panchayat of Bibipur village in Haryana, a state with one of the worst sex ratios in the country, has taken an imaginative step towards giving its betis their due. It has initiated a contest for the “best selfie with daughters”. Parents will send their selfies to the sarpanch and the best one will fetch a prize, but the real message of the contest is that the state must urgently bring its daughters back into the frame. In the past, too, Bibipur has experimented with out-of-the-box schemes to complement state-run initiatives for the girl child, like holding a women-driven khap panchayat, where a resolution calling for treating female foeticide as murder was passed. Haryana has much to learn from Bibipur.
Haryana’s paradox is that its phenomenal surge in economic terms has left its pre-modern social structures mostly untouched. Due to the Green Revolution and proximity to Delhi, the state succeeded in developing a large and productive agricultural and manufacturing base.
However, this economic revolution was led and presided over by a political leadership shaped by the twin institutions of caste and patriarchy. The contradictions inherent in this development trajectory have scarred the state’s social indicators. In Haryana, female literacy is 65.9 per cent, 10 per cent lower than that for men. The sex ratio is an appalling 879 females to 1,000 males, whereas the national average is 940, and the child sex ratio is even lower at 834 girls for 1,000 boys. The sex ratio in eight districts in the state declined between 2013 and 2014 and 12 of Haryana’s 21 districts are among the 100 worst in the country. State-driven campaigns — like Aapki Beti Humari Beti — can make only a limited impact if everyday social attitudes towards women remain the same. That’s a challenge, however, that the state’s politicians appear to have turned away from. Unfortunately, even Haryana’s young leaders have preferred not to step out of the rigid moulds nurtured by traditional power structures like khap panchayats that sanction and foster anti-women attitudes.
A state like Tamil Nadu achieved remarkable success in gender parity by implementing a bouquet of schemes for the girl child — free education till college, transport facilities, school infrastructure, employment schemes and monetary support for marriage — and strict enforcement of legal measures like the PNDT Act. Of course, social movements had prepared the ground for the success of these schemes and programmes. Perhaps panchayats like Bibipur can help make a long overdue beginning in Haryana by shining the light on the everyday discrimination against girls, in the family and in the khap, in the state.