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Girls are no longer considered unwanted
Looking at Ritu Jaglan, you wouldn’t guess she has made history of sorts in Haryana’s Jatland. But she has. Pushed to the front by her sarpanch brother Sunil Jaglan, the post-graduate in English convened the first-ever mahila khap meeting of 17 villages where women took to the stage and banned female foeticide in their region. Encouraged by the all-male khaps of the region, it was a beginning much feted by everyone. The articulate 26-year-old tells Sukhbir Siwach that she has been at it for the last two years, holding meetings with village women on issues concerning their health and their choices. Ritu (in orange) also trained them to speak up at khap panchayats.
How did you begin this work?
For two years we have been running a 'save the girl' campaign. We organised public meetings and rallies especially on the problem of female foeticide in the village. It was important to first create awareness.
What challenges did you face?
The first challenge was the disbelief of the women. In every meeting, these village women asked, "How can a girl ever take the place of a boy?" They worried about the dowry they would have to pay and how they would arrange it. It was difficult to convince them especially because everyone in these parts is conditioned to be "crazy about boys" in the family.
Did the men willingly allow women to attend meetings?
Oh no! Initially, the male family members resisted the participation of women. They said it would affect their domestic work. I remember men telling the women volunteers : "Kaam chod ke jaogi to Ritu ke ghar me he rahiyo (If you leave any chore unattended, you better stay put at Ritu's home). But they joined the campaign.
Did the campaign have any immediate results?
Yes. One day a pregnant woman told us she intended to go in for sex determination tests while another wanted her daughterin-law to abort the baby. But, thankfully, we succeeded in convincing them otherwise. Others eventually understood. Now girls are no longer considered 'unwanted'.
How did you manage to win the khaps' support?
We wanted to involve the khaps because they are accepted in our traditional society. Khap leaders were happy after our campaign. We are encouraged by their response.
What are the apprehensions regarding women speaking up in khap panchayats?
They feel that they may speak something "unwanted" to the elders that could invite dispute with their family members once they return home. We are concentrating on stopping female foeticide first and foremost.
With the ban on female foeticide, what is the next step?
The Haryana government has announced an award of Rs one crore to the gram panchayat. I will ask my brother, Sunil Jaglan, who is village sarpanch, to spend this amount to create infrastructure for women. It could be a women's college or anything that will help address women's problems. We will take the campaign further to neighbouring villages. The problem of skewed sex ratio is there in many villages. We also plan to hold similar khap panchayats in other parts of the state.
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