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Ratios and a ray of light

It is said that a ray of hope is all that?s needed to light the way ahead. In India, which has repeatedly failed to correct its appalling sex ratio, community action in an unknown village near Ludhiana may be that first beam.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2006 01:07 IST
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It is said that a ray of hope is all that’s needed to light the way ahead. In India, which has repeatedly failed to correct its appalling sex ratio, community action in an unknown village near Ludhiana may be that first beam. Led by the district’s deputy commissioner, Krishan Kumar, Khothran has already benefited from a community programme, Upkar, designed to dissuade villagers from aborting the female foetus. As old as the practice of female foeticide is, this is a recognition of the fact that society’s attitude has to change to effectively root out the evil. Existing legislation has been no deterrent in curbing the practice. Even doctors have been known to ‘volunteer’ information and ‘counsel’ poor parents on the ‘costs’ of a girl child. Which is why the Upkar model is worth studying.

The project runs in 76 villages, where till a few years ago, the sex ratio in some of the villages was awfully skewed at 1:20. Upkar rests on pillars of counselling (community education), deterrence (invoking the law), peer pressure (holding last rites after abortions to unsettle the perpetrators) and incentives for informers who register complaints against families and doctors who flout the law. That it works is clear from a much-improved ratio of 44 girls of a total of 77 infants born in 2005 in Khothran. Sustaining a nurturing environment for its under-privileged women is a challenge for India, and demands a cradle-to-grave approach. For girls from impoverished families, the struggle begins at birth, fighting for a fair share of nutrition and development, fending off early marriage (or trafficking) and undernourished pregnancy, and getting sucked back into a community vortex that denies life to the girl child.

Which is where Upkar’s efficiency lies. In Khothran today, a mother-to-be, unwilling to abort, finds support for her decision in the community. There’s nothing like a community empowered to make decisions that spell development in the true sense. And intrinsic to this is the fact that the initiative is a classic example of what a committed State machinery is capable of achieving.

First Published: Mar 20, 2006 01:07 IST