M A I N   N E W S

Punjab village breathes new life into girlchild
Geetanjali Gayatri
Tribune News Service

Khothran (Nawanshahr), March 16
A sleepy village, back of beyond, has woken up to stir the conscience of its people, snuff life out of the evil of female foeticide and help the girl child breathe easy. Surrounded by green fields, dotted with clusters of kutcha-pucca houses opening into slushy streets, the girl child is getting a new life here. Words like "abortion" and "discrimination" hold no water anymore and every birth is a reason to celebrate the baby, the mother and life.

A girl is as welcome as a boy and lending credence to this changed mindset are statistics. Against 50 males and 31 females born in 2004, of the 77 children born here in 2005, 44 were girls, giving a fillip to the dwindling sex ratio of the district and goading volunteers of "Upkaar" to stoke the campaign fire further.

This district-level co-ordination body formed by the Deputy Commissioner, Mr Krishan Kumar, "Upkaar", with people from all walks of life, spearheads the campaign. United, they all stand for one cause that of saving the girl child.

While the increased number of girls at the end of the year have brought some cheer to the volunteers as also village sarpanch Nirmal Kaur, they know it's just the beginning and have a long way to go. But, then, again, every villager believes that large oaks from small acorns grow and are willing to slog. They want their small beginning to snowball into a people's movement for correcting the sex ratio of their villages, going on to the block, the district, the state and finally the country.

"It all began in January 2005 when we celebrated Lohri for all the girls of our village and thus began our fight against foeticide. Backed by the DC and supported by the administration, today we have successfully aborted all abortions. Nobody thinks on those lines anymore," says an elated Nirmal Kaur.

Her day, from sunrise to sunset, comes packed with door-to-door visits, educating villagers about the fallout of abortion and counselling elders against differentiating between children on the basis of sex. Significantly, it has lifted the pressure of producing boys from the lives of women like Narinder Kaur, expecting her second baby.

"I have a six-year-old daughter but nobody in the family even mentions the need for a male child to complete the family. A healthy baby is all that matters," she maintains. Other women vouch for what she says.

Interestingly, what's making this campaign work in Khothran and 76 other villages of the district where sex ratio has improved, is not fear of law alone. Impacting the psyche are reports of dharnas by "Upkaar" outside homes of people forcing women into abortion and performing the last rites after an abortion to burden the family with guilt.

Such episodes are fast becoming lessons for the rest and discouraging the perpetrators of the heinous act. Also, activating a helpline for providing information about errant couples or private clinics and cash incentives to the informer have been efficacious in checking foeticide.

Explains the man behind the show, Mr Krishan Kumar, "I was disturbed about the sex ratio in my district where some villages had less than 500 women for every 1000 males." Realising it was not a field he could plough alone, Mr Kumar devised a multi-pronged approach to tackle the problem.

"Upkaar was born at this stage. It took two months of vigil to save the girl child--it is only after three months that the sex of the foetus can be determined while abortions can be done only till about five months--and we embarked on our mission. The results are there for all to see," he stated.

Khothran is a torch-bearer, some others are in tow. The catchword of the campaign is "sustainability" since it is for the people, of the people and by the people. And, as long as people are up and aware, there's a glimmer of hope for the dying girl child.

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