REODAR/SIROHI: This Rajasthan district has restored both gender and green balance by planting trees to mark the birth of a girl child.
Five-year old Sugna enters the temple complex and embraces a neem tree her own age, as her mother Wagtu Devi looks on. The mother and daughter are particularly attached to this tree at the temple of Banoshwari Mata. In Sanwada village, in the district of Sirohi in southern Rajasthan, this tree was planted to celebrate Sugna’s birth.Around them stand more trees, each one symbolic of the birth of a girl child.
“We started sensitizing people of the area about the significance of the girl child in 2005,” says Sunita Sharma, secretary of the NGO, Society for All Round Development (SARD). “In 2010, the villagers, along with public representatives, decided to plant saplings whenever a girl child was born. Since then, all 38 gram panchayats in the region have followed the example, and villages like Sanwara, Nagani, Selwada and Lunol have taken it up in a big way.”
The effort, she hopes, will balance the skewed gender ratio of Sirohi district which, according to the 2011 census, was 830 -one of the lowest in the country . Change is already visible.The verdant green cover around Banoshwari temple is testament to the improving gender ratio in the region. “By planting saplings when a girl child is born, we show we are welcoming of girls, and we create green cover at t h e s a m e t i m e, ” s ay s Bhabharam, a resident of Sanwada. Around five years ago, he claimed, not a single tree grew around the temple; now there are hundreds planted by people of his community (Rebari). A nearby Gogaji temple tells a similar story . It was barren but now thrives with green cover.
While Sanwada honours birth, Pratapgarh district commemorates death with trees, with villagers planting saplings on the passing of a family member. So, trees in this area are revered. It was in fact this practice that impressed the Rebaris enough to adapt it. “Here people consider trees holy for its utility: they give us shelter, fruit, wood. Now, they’re precious also because they represent our girls,” Wagtu said, adding that by taking care of each other’s trees, they were in effect, extending their guardianship to each other’s children.
The villagers plant their saplings in the temple when they run out of space at home. ” At the temple we don’t have to worry about water for the plants; water is scarce in the village,” said Walaram, a youth.
The initiative, says Sharma, was intended to stem female feticide that ran deep in the region. “Pregnant women from the district would go to Palanpur, in Gujarat to avail of sex determination.In 2012, then under-secretary in the health ministry, DN Sahoo, issued a letter directing the Gujarat government to investigate the complaints filed by Rajasthan, on the issue,” she recalled.
Whether or not the investigations made a difference or the homespun campaign, the reality on the ground soon changed. Shobha, an anganwadi worker at Sanwada gram panchayat, said, “The low sex ratio earlier testified to sex determination, but now, girls thrive here. Women have up to three daughters,” she said.
“Chhori toh hayee howe hai (girls are better),” ventures Lalita, another anganwadi worker from Nagani village, where people have started planting saplings, not just in homes and temples, but in schools too. “Most plant ashoka trees, because they are auspicious,”she adds.
The tune the district is now singing has changed entirely for the better, with the local administration leading the chorus. The daughter-inlaw of Sanwada’s deputy sarpanch and zilla parishad member, Urmila Vaishnav, had this to say , “Trees give us life, and girls infuse the family with life. So in our meetings, we discuss how to grow both, girls and trees.”
Times of India