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India: Saving girls with song, drama and chromosomes

Aug 09, 2011

Using games, skits and attractively coloured props, community workers in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are educating people against gender based discrimination and blaming women for giving birth to girls.

Baskhi ka Talaab, Uttar Pradesh: Far away, off dusty tracks in India's rural Uttar Pradesh, untouched villages are slowly coming to terms with the concept of human anatomy and chromosomes. With games, skits, plays and songs thousands are waking up to the revelation that if anyone, it is a man, and not a woman, who 'determines' the sex of a child. 

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Through education and awareness, a force of motley community workers is challenging discriminating social practices and traditional beliefs that brand girls a liability and blame women for giving birth to a girl.

In Bakshi ka Talaab, Anurag Trivedi, a 24-year-old community worker, is accorded a reception usually reserved for political leaders. It is nearly noon time and Anurag emerges from a cloud of dust on his motorbike to a rapturous crowd of about forty. His eager audience includes women, children, village elders and men who have returned home for lunch from the fields.

Soaked in sweat in oppressive monsoon heat, Anurag gets straight down to business. In no time he pulls out an array of things from his rucksack – a pack of brightly painted cards, coloured marbles, a bedraggled doll and a chart with images of a man and a woman drawn on it. "I use these to get across to people in the language and method they best understand. I keep my message very simple and easy to grasp for my audience, most of whom have never been to school in their life," says Anurag who works for Vatsalya, a partner of child rights organisation Plan International.

'Let girls be born'

The organisation, for the past many years, has been promoting girls survival rights and development through targeted campaigns. Its latest campaign 'Let Girls Be Born', rolled out in six different states, aims to raise awareness against the practice of girl foeticide. In Uttar Pradesh alone, the organisation has reached over 100 villages and over 50,000 local people, civic and public health officials and media.

The campaign has gained further impetus with India's latest Census figures which show there are only 914 girls to every 1,000 boys between the age of 0 and 6 years as a national average, the lowest since records began. In Uttar Pradesh the figure stands at 899 girls for 1,000 boys. The situation is similar or even worse in other states like Haryana (830), Punjab (846) and national capital Delhi (866).

"In Indian society, the pressure on women to give birth to a boy is immense. Through illegally practised sex-selections and abortions, thousands of girls are being eliminated and not being allowed to be born," says Sachin Golwalkar, Senior Programme Manager of Plan India. The organisation, he says, is focused on strengthening the enforcement of law, which is to prevent sex selection through any diagnostic techniques and to make communities aware of the imbalance in Indian society due to the declining number of girls.

Back in Baskhi ka Talaab, Anurag's one-man road show is touching on some serious drama. He holds everyone in rapt attention as he narrates, using his props and chaste local dialect, the tragic tale of a woman who gets shunned by her husband and in-laws for giving birth to 'unwanted girl' instead of a boy. Many heads nod in the crowd and some eyes well-up with tears as the story strikes a familiar chord. The scruffy plastic doll makes for a newborn girl, bright illustrations for mean relatives and Anurag's moving rendition leaves everyone spellbound.

"These meetings have great impact on people. They may still want a boy but they have started realising the potential of their daughters," says Lajjawati, a mother of four girls and one boy. She sends all her children to school. One of her daughters Anjana has secured a distinction in her 10th class exams and is keen to go further. "I feel inspired that girls can achieve anything. I want to be a civil servant," says the 15-year-old. 

Challenges

In a setting where social practices and customs are inherently prejudiced against girls, it is extremely challenging for community workers like Anurag to change mindsets and hope for change. "I know most people do not believe in what I say but I have noticed that over the years they have started to listen," he says. From innovative games to using coloured marbles to explain sex chromosomes, the social work postgraduate uses his vivid imagination to campaign for survival rights of girls. "Games and story-telling can be used effectively to get serious messages across. They allow people to participate and learn at the same time," he says.

Like a deft entertainer, Anurag is never short of ideas to keep his audience engaged. When the drama and science get a bit taxing for the village folk, he quickly switches gears and brings in some music. After rummaging through his bag he pulls out a roll of some freshly crafted songs celebrating girls. Most traditional songs celebrating child birth are dedicated to boys, so the ones rejoicing the birth of a girl arouse curiosity. Regardless, a confident Anurag breaks into a song. Again, the song is in local dialect and the tune hard to resist.

A few moments later and with little cajoling women join in the chorus along with a hurriedly sourced traditional drum. They continue long after Anurag has whizzed off to another village. He is out for another round of songs, drama and chromosomes.

Watch the video of Anurag’s song session in progress here.

Source : AlertNet
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