The status of women (or girls) in India has been a cause for concern since always. There is no denying the fact that women have made a substantial and influential progress, but they still have to struggle against a number of handicaps and social evils in the male-dominated society that is India. Countless old, evil and patriarchal forces still prevail in the modern-day Indian society that resists the forward march of its women folk.
It is ironical that a country, which has recently acclaimed the status of being the first nation to successfully launch 104 satellites in a single go, with the assistance of a number of women scientists, is positioned 127th among 146 countries across the globe on the basis of Gender Equality Index (India trails behind Pakistan and Bangladesh in the list). On the one hand, where the whole country bows down before the female figures of Durga, Saraswati, Laxmi and countless others; we encounter a contrasting state of affairs toward a female child at the time of her birth.
Traditions and rituals outline the existence of a girl child in India. Amidst the uproars of gender equality, equal pays and law enforcements all over the world; India faces a rather retrograded issue with girl child. Female infants are still found dumped in trash, by the dozens, while unborn foetuses continue to be sniffed in the womb. Wrought with discrimination and prejudiced by rituals, our society has dealt the girl child with a moderately rougher hand, starting even before birth, up till the dark of life.
Under a national study, done on child abuse, girls between the age of 4 to 18 were interviewed and asked questions for the same. Nearly half the girls of the total lot said that they wished they were boys for the discrimination they face in day to day life in every aspect including the food served to them by their parents.
The Census statistics of 2011 unveiled the grave factual picture of the decline in female (child) sex ratio (CSR) between the age group of 0-6 years. The decline in CSR was unabated since 1961. The trend came under scrutiny when the results of 1991 national census were released, and it got confirmed that the problem was worsening after the 2001 report came out. The CSR in 2011 hit the all time abysmal low of 918 girls (to 1000 boys).
A shelving CSR suggested of the incorrect proportion of girls in comparison to boys. It diametrically reflected the pre-birth discrimination of gender biased sex selection and also the post-birth discrimination against females.
In the pre-birth stage, female-foeticide accounted majorly for the disproportion in majority of Indian states. Ultrasound technology has made it possible for women and their families to learn the gender of a foetus earlier during the pregnancy period. Preference of a male infant, for several reasons, has combined with the technology to result in a rise in abortions of female foetuses post the ultrasonic testing.
In the post-birth stage, a gender-biased inferior treatment towards the females leads to the lack of education among them. The birth and growth of a girl child is often labelled as ‘Bojh’ or ‘Paraya Dhan’ among many Indian families. A large group of girls (& women) still face a number of challenges and impediments day to day for being uneducated, or not having a financial stability or other fundamental growths as they could not study at the right age. A study done by the government of India, shows that only 3 out of every 10 girls that enrol in Grade One actually go on to complete Grade Ten. The overwhelming gender gaps in literacy, enrolment and attainment brought to light a clearer picture of gender disparity in the educational sector as well. Social, economic, and cultural factors exacerbated the situation in the hinterlands and thus, illustrated the need for a holistic response.
The discrimination was widespread across the whole country and had expanded & inflated in the rural and tribal regions of the country as well.
The sharp decline in the Census (2011) data called for an urgent action, as it highlighted that the girl child was, literally, being excluded from life itself. Successive governments introduced cash incentive schemes, with the assumption that the arrival of cash on the birth of the girl child would improve the CSR. However, all the initiatives failed to do the same as the problem was deep-rooted under social and economical causes and the attitude of people toward the female child. The government of India finally introduced ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP)’ initiative in October, 2014 to address the attitudinal issues responsible for the gender parity skew.
The key elements of the scheme included Enforcement of PC & PNDT (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act, nation-wide awareness and advocacy campaign and multi-sectoral action in select 100 CSR critical districts (covering all states and UTs) in the first phase. The districts of Champawat and Pithoragarh, having an alarming low level of CSR, from Uttarakhand were in the list of 100 critical districts. The state (Uttarakhand) itself had a woeful CSR of 886, causing a matter of concern and need for the scheme to be implemented & enforced for the rectification.
‘BBBP’ gave a strong emphasis to alter the mindsets through training, sensitisation, awareness raising and community mobilisation on ground.
The overall goal of the scheme is to celebrate the girl child & enable her education. The threefold objectives for the same are as under:
1. Prevent gender biased sex selective elimination.
2. Ensure survival & protection of the girl child.
3. Ensure education of the girl child.
Modi, coalesced with Maneka Gandhi, eventually launched the BBBP movement on January 22, 2015 from Panipat, Haryana. The campaign aimed at generating awareness and improving the efficiency of welfare services for girls. Actress Madhuri Dixit Nene was proclaimed as nation’s brand ambassador for the drive.
The scheme launched with an initial corpus of ₹100 cr is a trio-ministerial initiative of Ministry of Women & Child Development (MoWCD), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Ministry of Human Resource Development (MoHRW). ‘BBBP’ has marked targets such as increasing enrolment at secondary level from 73 to 76%, reducing drop-out rates at upper primary and secondary level, and reinvigorating School Management Committee to enhance girls’ access to education.
A multi-level administrative team has been introduced at the national, state and district level for an accelerated impact of the campaign on the urban as well as the rural populace. Since the launch of the campaign, the multi-sectoral district action plans have been put into operation in all states. Further, capacity-building trainings and programmes have been imparted to trainers to additionally strengthen capacities of district level officials (DC/DM) and frontline workers covering all states and UTs under MoWCD.
A reward of ₹1 cr has been set forth for the “innovative” village which attains a balanced sex ratio. Additionally, a reward of ₹5 lakh has also been inducted to be given to five schools in each district every year on the basis of several education-based parameters and guidelines.
Finance minister, Arun Jaitely, announced an allocation of ₹22095 cr made for the MoWCD in the Budget for the Financial Year 2017-18. The allocation for the flagship ‘BBBP’ scheme has also been doubled to ₹200 cr in this year’s budget. An amount of ₹200 cr has further been provisioned for the ‘National Creche Scheme’, while the scheme for adolescent girls has been apportioned ₹460 cr.
The government, ever since, has also been trying to come up with several additives in order to bring about a transformational shift in the way our society looks upon a girl child. For social media initiative have less financial implications, a variety of social platforms like Facebook, Twitter handles, Youtube, Google plus and likewise have been used to put about the message by government, NGOs and social workers too.
PM Modi in his monthly radio oration ‘Mann Ki Baat’ lauded the Sarpanch from Bibipur in Haryana who started a unique ‘Selfie With Daughter’ initiative. The PM also urged people to share their selfies with daughters and it soon became a world-wide trend. People across India and the world as well shared their pictures with daughters and it became a proud occasion for all those who have daughters. Furthermore, a savings sub-scheme called ‘Sukanya Samridhi Yojana (SSY)’ has been introduced under ‘BBBP’. With the purpose of getting rid of the tag of ‘burden’ a tax-free savings account, called ‘Sukanya Samridhi Account’, has been introduced under SSY. This account is exclusive for a girl child, where parents or guardians of the girl can save money for their daughters, which can be used for the girl child’s education and marriage in the future. A ‘CBSE Merit Scholarship Scheme’ for single girl child was also introduced in 2016 to provide financial assistance to meritorious girls who belong to the low-income families.
A number of other subsidiary initiatives, for instance ‘Beti Jan-Mahostav’ & ‘Naari ki Chaupal’, have been instituted to supplement ‘BBBP’ as a whole as well.
Various states are coming up with campaigns of their own to spread the message of ‘BBBP’. Tamil Nadu’s Cuddalore district is working to abolish child marriages and to educate their girls. In district Kathua of Jammu & Kashmir, all the departments have been linked with ‘BBBP’ under the state’s convergence model. Madhya Pradesh has started a ‘Har Ghar Dastak’ campaign to adopt destitute girls and to ensure their education. Rajasthan has launched an ‘Apna Bacha, Apna Vidyalaya’ to re-admit the dropped-out girls and to complete their education.
Mansa district in Punjab has launched a novel initiative to inspire its girls to be educated. Under its ‘Udaan- Sapneya Di Duniya De Rubaru (Live your Dream For One Day)’ scheme, the Mansa administration invites proposals from girls belonging to classes VI-XII. These girls have the opportunity to spend one day with a professional they aspire to be. From doctors, police officials, engineers, and also IAS and PPS officers among others.
In Uttarakhand, Pithoragarh district which was in the list of 100 critical districts with low CSR, various steps have been taken under ‘BBBP’ toward protecting the girl child and enabling her education. The District Task Force and Block Task Force have been constituted for the same. Meetings of these forums have structured & clear road maps to meet the correct CSR number. To reach out the community at a large, awareness generation activities have been being carried out for wider dissemination of the scheme. Various rallies have been organised with core participation from various schools, army schools, and employees of government departments in Pithoragarh and the state as well. ‘Gaura Devi Kanya Dhan Yojana’, ‘Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram’, ‘Mother and Child Tracking System’, ‘Palna’, ‘Nai Zindagi’, ‘DEEKSHA’ are among the many schemes and campaigns introduced and enacted by the state government of Uttarakhand, pertaining to the welfare, support and education of a female child. The state has also cited twin sisters & accorded mountaineers, Tashi and Nungshi Malik as the state brand ambassador for ‘BBBP’.
The city, Rishikesh, has also seen a number of campaigns and drives organised by schools and other institutions to spread awareness regarding ‘BBBP’. On being asked about the importance of education in the process of women empowerment, Meera Chatterjee (Founder and Principal of Yogendra Public School) said, “Education is the most important milestone of women empowerment because it enables them to response to challenges and confront their traditional roles and change the life.” A number of NGOs, groups and bodies, like Udaan, Vyavastha Parivartan Manch, Maiti Swayamsevi Sanstha, Lioness Club, Uttarakhand Mahasabha, and Rotary Club have also been working toward the same goal in and around the city.
Modi in his 29th edition of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ commended the second anniversary of ‘BBBP’ campaign. “’BBBP’ movement is moving forward with rapid strides. It has now become a campaign of public education.” said the PM. MoWCD also asked people to take up a pledge to eliminate gender-based discrimination and to provide the girls with an enabling environment to promote their education and improve the quality of life.
One of India’s greatest son, Swami Vivekanand once quoted, “There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved, it is not possible for a bird to fly only on one wing.” highlighting the importance of women education and their empowerment. Therefore, the inclusion of “Women Empowerment’ as one of the prime goals in the eight Millennium Development Goals underscores the relevance of this fact. Thus, in order to achieve the status of a developed country, India needs to transform its colossal women force into an effective human resource and this is possible only through their empowerment. Consequently, in order to achieve true women empowerment, it is important that we begin with the girl child and her education is an important stepping stone in the process.
The mindset that a girl is a liability needs to be changed and this requires happening at the grass root level. It is imperative, for both government and non-government organisations, to work in cohesion to spread and propel the message of saving and educating the girl child; and while spreading awareness is critical, there is a need of stricter laws and their enforcement which deter people from resorting to female foeticide.
The ‘BBBP’ initiative sets itself aside from others as it has direct support of the Prime Minister providing it for the much needed political impetus to function. However, it is important to understand that steps to improve their quality of life through education needs intervention beyond targeted goals of enrolment. The high drop-out rates of girls is a result of socio-economic issues at play outside the walls of schools. The reduction in drop-out from schools should be the next focus.
Two years since its arrival, BBBP has brought about the much needed change on the importance of education for girls, declining CSR and most importantly, the perspective of the society towards its women. The scheme has delivered substantial gains but a number of significant gaps still remain. Gaps that need to be filled by the people. As the government can only form initiatives, construct structures, and spread awareness but the power and the duty lies with the citizen.
We need to understand that women (or girls) are not only place holders, to be dismissed or to be kept as young mothers or child brides. Their voices shouldn’t be smothered, their opinions shouldn’t be belittled, and their existence shouldn’t be invisible. We need to believe in them, to show them how much they can travel and achieve and let them step out of the mere shadows through their preservation and education. We need to amplify their values, recognise their worths, and then they themselves will rise taking the community up with them. We need to let them know that being born in this country is not a pain but potential, not an obstacle but an opportunity instead; and the economy will then thrive eventually on our women’s dignity, education, self respect, and eventually her empowerment.