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Who Said Social Reform Is Impossible

Female literacy will eventually be the most powerful weapon deployed in the quest for gender and social justice

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One of the most significant news items in recent times was not given the prominence it deserved. Last Sunday, almost all newspapers and major web sites had story about the sex ratio in Haryana. Apparently, after declining alarmingly for ages, the sex ratio in Haryana actually exceeded 900 in the calendar year 2015. Just in case you were not aware, that means about 900 girls were born for every 1000 boys born in Haryana in 2015. In a normal, and progressive society, that ratio would be a cause for shame. But crazy as it may sound, this actually calls for celebrations. The fact is, the sex ratio in Haryana had actually coming down to about 800 in some districts. The reason: the “legal” murder of unborn girls in their mothers’ wombs because of socially regressive mindsets. Modern technology has enabled parents to find out the sex of their unborn child at the early stages of pregnancy. The term “amniocentesis” became fairly popular a few decades back. When rampant misuse of amniocentesis to abort female fetuses was reported from across the country, a new law was enacted to make such abortions a criminal offense. But as with many laws in India, “tradition” and socially regressive mindsets won the argument and the sex ratio in states like Haryana continued to fall.

Given this backdrop, the sex ration in Haryana once again topping 900 is indeed cause for celebration and hope. More importantly, this significant development sends out two messages: the first is that pragmatic use of common sense economics by the State works phenomenally well when it comes to the success of social welfare schemes. Second, mindset changes matter more than laws when it comes to social reform. Last year, denizens of Luyten’s Delhi sniggered cynically when Prime Minister Narendra Modi encouraged a “selfie with daughter” program in Delhi. Haryana was specifically targeted. Now this author doesn't think that patriarchal males of Haryana were suddenly inspired by Modi to stop killing their unborn daughters. A corrective mechanism across Haryana society was already in motion. Modi merely gave it another nudge. For years, young males in Haryana have found it virtually impossible to find brides; going as far as Jharkhand, West Bengal and Kerala to find a suitable girl. Gradually, the message was sinking home that this indiscriminate and inhuman practice was exacting a terrible toll.

An even bigger fillip to this change for better has been provided by numerous schemes launched by many governments, both at the center and the states. It is routine now for parents of a girl child to get financial incentives as their daughter goes to school. The amount of increases as the daughter passes from school and pursues higher studies. Some like Bihar chief minister launched an innovative scheme gifting bicycles to girls going to school. Some like Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan set aside a healthy corpus for the marriage of daughters. These financial incentives do matter as even socially regressive males are rational economic animals. In case you have doubts about this, look at how the much derided mid day meal schemes have revolutionized school attendance across India. Female literacy will eventually be the most powerful weapon deployed in the quest for gender, and social justice.

And mindsets do change. When my grandparents died, it was unthinkable for women or girls to go to the cremation ground. When my father passed away, my sister and all my female cousins were very much around for the last rites. And when my father in law passed away, my wife lit the funeral pyre. In these times of hyper active media and sensationalism, we often fail to observe and applaud these significant changes. Part of the reason is the cynical, and mysterious anti Hindu mindsets of people in Luyten’s Delhi. Part of the reason why the quest for gender justice is such an agonizingly slow process is also the double standards practiced by these denizens. They would promptly dub the typical Haryana male as a barbarian for whom the female is a mere object. But they would also keep quiet when someone like Dr. R. K. Pachauri, who faces serious and credible charges of sexual harassment, keeps escaping even token punishment. Depends on how you see the glass: half empty or half full.

Tags assigned to this article:
Haryana sex ratio social reforms Girlchild society