On the morning of 22 January 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood on a stage in Panipat, Haryana, and urged the audience to treat their sons and daughters equally. “I have come to you today with a pain in my heart,” he said. “The world that speaks of humanity, in the same world, a girl child is killed in the mother’s womb.” Modi was launching the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, which is meant to address the decline in the child sex ratioand related issues of empowerment of women. The BBBP scheme, like the Modi administration’s other flagship initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Make in India, has also been widely publicised.
Virendra Kumar, the minister of state in the ministry of women and child development, or MoWCD, disclosed data regarding funds released under the BBBP scheme, in a reply to a question raised in the Lok Sabha on 4 January this year. The reply revealed that as of 31 December 2018, the government had allocated funds amounting to Rs 648 crore for the scheme since it was launched. Of this, the reply showed, a sum of 364 crore—or atleast 56 percent—was spent on “media activities. ”The ministry’s reply shows that a majority of the BBBP scheme’s resources were focused on building a perception of change rather than initiating measures for actual change on the ground.
On 24 January 2019, to mark the National Girl Child Day, the Bharatiya Janata Party government awarded several states and districts that showed “exemplary performance” under the BBBP scheme. In the award ceremony held in Delhi, the Hanumangarh district of northern Rajasthan was one of seven districts felicitated for “enabling girl child education.” In February this year, I traveled to Hanumangarh to assess the implementation of the BBBP scheme in the district. Given the vast focus areas of this scheme, I limited myself to assessing how the Hanumangarh district has fared in the area for which it was awarded—the education of girls. I visited six schools to see if the scheme had yielded any tangible results. The perception of change was dominant, but upon investigation, it did not stand scrutiny—little progress had been made on actual metrics such as teacher training, the access to clean toilets and the ease of transportation to school.
According to the BBBP guidelines, in its first phase, from 2014 to 2015, the scheme identified 100 districts, on the basis of low child sex ratio, for “focused intervention and multi-sectoral action.” In the second phase, from 2015 to 2016, the ministry included an additional 61 districts—one of which was Hanumangarh—for “creating awareness and advocacy about the issue.” In March 2018, the scheme was expanded to cover all 640 districts in the country.
Driving down the lanes of Hanumangarh city, the old gives way to the new as small medieval forts mark the route to what is known as the Hanumangarh junction, where shops and modern-looking houses spot the sides of the road. Many locals said with a sense of confidence that Hanumangarh is relatively more progressive and modern than other districts of Rajasthan, which they believed had contributed to the BBBP scheme’s high performance in the district. Residents said that the scheme had helped at the ground level by encouraging people to give birth to the girl child and to educate her. “Now people beat thalis”—as a form of celebration—“when a girl is born,” Tara Devi, a teacher at the Seth Radhakishan Bihani Government Girls Senior Secondary School in Hanumangarh town, said. “This never used to happen till some years ago.”