Cradle in every village – to save the girl child

Ahmednagar : If someone casts her away, there will be others to cradle her. By October this year, cradles will be set up in 110 locations in 80 villages of Shrigonda sub-district in Maharashtra to enable new parents to ‘drop’ a female infant if she is unwanted – instead out snuffing out her life. The infant would be immediately picked up by a local policeman, a village volunteer or NGO workers and taken to the safety of a child care centre, and the individual would get a Rs.1,000 reward for his/her yeoman service.

Girish Kulkarni, director of NGO Snehalaya, which has proposed the scheme, said it is the need of the hour in Shrigonda which has notched one of the worst sex ratios in Ahmednagar district – 883 girls to 1,000 boys – in the last census.

“In this day and age, many couples still kill a newborn female child and, the official statistics notwithstanding, we estimate the real figures could be more alarming,” Kulkarni said.

The idea of a ‘Cradle in Every Village’ is a step forward in Snehalaya’s revolutionary “anti-female foeticide campaign” launched this January in Chikhali village of Shrigonda.

The village, suffering an adverse male-female ratio of 890-1,000, in a population of around 6,000, accepted the suggestion to save the female child. The entire village took a solemn pledge to prevent sex determination and the killing or abandoning newborn female infants.

This, said Ajay Wable, a Snehalaya volunteer, involved taking the medical fraternity into confidence, including doctors and private sonagraph centres, medical termination of pregnancy centres and private hospitals.

The villagers decided to ban any medico who flouted the rule.

“Since February this year, at least six newborn female infants have been abandoned. We were informed telephonically and we arranged to pick them up safely. They were not killed, and are now being cared for in one of our centres,” Wable said proudly.

Anant Zende, a bachelor, is another volunteer from Chikhali.

“With women volunteers, we monitor all pregnancies, ensure they avoid sex determination tests and track them till the child is safely delivered,” Zende said.

Snehalaya’s anti-female foeticide campaign is prominent in every street and alley in the village.

Colourful posters and large banners proclaiming ‘Stop Sex Selection’, ‘Save The Girl Child’, and ‘No More Killing The Girl Child’ stare at the people daily and the messages have sunk in, said another director of Snehalaya, Prajakta Kulkarni.

“For instance, as per the laws in Maharashtra, the daughter has an equal share in the father’s property, plus the husband’s property. Most men feel that daughter gets double the share while the male child is at a disadvantage and so resort to the practice of female foeticide,” she said.

Shrigonda tehsil is one of the most prosperous, well-irrigated and developed ones in the Ahmednagar district.

“With prosperity, many private hospitals and hotels have mushroomed here, besides allied services like sonography centres. Some are suspected to indulge in sex determination tests or even abortions of female foetuses,” Kulkarni explained.

“Big towns like Shirur, Nashik, Pune and Ahmednagar also have such centres. Some of them conduct these tests on the sly and are patronized by many,” he said.

Kulkarni feels with the proposed ‘Cradle in Every Village’ plan, even if people do not accept the female child, they will at least let them live.

For this, the government could chip in by making certain amendments to the law – the sections concerned in the Indian Penal Code which penalize couples wilfully abandoning a newborn child, or the Juvenile Justice Act, in which the parents have to justify why they are abandoning their newborn child.

“There are other mega-social schemes like the Sant Gadge Baba Village Abhiyan which are very popular. The government could consider a qualifying clause for the participating villages – those with an adverse male-female ratio could be summarily banned from the contest,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni said the NGO is preparing volunteers to keep vigil on the cradles and take quick action of transferring the child safely to a care centre.

“Mostly, locals might drop the newborn infant in a cradle far away from their homes to avoid detection. Usually infants are bundled in plastic bags, carried on a bicycle or an auto rickshaw and just dumped in a desolate place. They call us from a public phone and our volunteers rush there,” he said.

At least as far as Chikhali village is concerned, the villagers are optimistic that they would achieve a male-female ratio of 1,000-1,000 by 2015! By Quaid Najmi