The dwindling number of girls in India due to gender-driven, illegal abortions has fueled deep social problems, including a lack of women for young men to marry. VOA visited Bibipur village in the country's worst-affected state, Haryana, where in an unusual initiative, the local council is battling to change the country's deep seated preference for sons.
An elderly couple in Bibipur had to “import” a wife for their son from the poor, distant state of Bihar. Their nephew, Ram Niwas, says there are hardly any young women in this prosperous village.
“We have to pay $800 to $1000 to $1600 to get a bride. It is the only way we have to carry on our name,” says Niwas.
Bride buying flourishes in Haryana. It has the country’s worst gender ratio, with 879 girls for 1000 boys.
It means men must now pay for brides, but experts say the practice fuels abuse of women in a region where boys are accustomed to receiving a dowry.
The problem became a priority for Council Chairman Sunil Jaglan.
“I surveyed the number of bachelors in the village. About 68 men above 40-years-old could not find brides,” says he.
To change attitudes, they first convinced grandparents to treat boys and girls equally. Then, they started celebrating girls’ births like boys, with ceremonies involving transgenders.
Sheila Devi is on a women’s committee that tries to prevent pregnant women from having sex determination tests.
“We tell them that if anyone aborts a girl child, we will not hesitate to initiate legal action. We explain to them to treat boys and girls equally,” says Devi.
Slowly, Bibipur is transforming. A third daughter was born to Dharam Pal and his wife, Krishna, three months ago. While the mother still hankers for a son, the father says he will not have another child in the hope of having a boy.
“Some sons only drink and kick parents. This is destiny. A son may not look after me in my old age,” says Pal.
Bibipur has won awards for its pioneering approach, and is seen as a hopeful sign for a national campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to save and educate girls.