New Delhi- National Girl Child Day has evolved into a social media occasion where political figures address the importance of promoting female involvement. However, there is a need to recognize the diversity among female children. It is crucial to formulate policies that go beyond discussions on female participation and take into account factors related to caste and class.
The Mooknayak spoke to Suman Devathia, who is a women’s rights activist working with Aghaaz Foundation. The activist opened up about acknowledging the different experiences from female children belonging to different communities and approaching their issues through an intersectional lens.
Talking about the different experiences of girls, the activist remarked, “Gender-based discrimination can be observed in every community of our country. That is why it becomes important to approach every aspect through the lens of intersectionality. When we talk about education, we cannot ignore the rampant casteism that is faced by many children from the marginalised communities in such spaces.”
“Children are made to feel they are different owing to their caste and identity since a very young age. For example, if we take a look into the case of the 17-year-old Delta Meghwal, we get to see the kind of hardships she had to overcome. Meghwal was the first girl from her village in Nokha Bikaner to complete schooling and go out for training. But the child faced sexual violence and casteism, social evils to which she lost her life.” On 29th March 2016, her lifeless body was discovered in a water tank at the Jain Adarsh Teacher Training Institute for girls, where she was a student.
According to an FIR filed by her parents, Delta had informed them on March 28 that she had been raped by a teacher, who allegedly then took her life. The court found all three accused guilty, charging them with abetment of suicide of a minor under Section 305 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and under relevant sections of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. The accused rapist, Singh, faced additional convictions under Section 376 of the IPC for rape, as well as charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. Pragya Shukla and Priya Shukla were also convicted under Section 21 of the POCSO Act for failure to report or record a case.
The activist then continued, “Such challenges make the families generally take a stricter route, such as not letting the female children pursue higher education. Belonging to a lower caste might also mean coming from a family that is not economically stable. So at that time such families will try to limit the daughter’s education more.” This can be substantiated by the Meghwal’s case too. Following the teenager's demise, the father decided to prevent his younger daughter from attending school. Nevertheless, his two sons are currently enrolled in and pursuing their MBBS degrees in Maharashtra.
Devathia added, “Dalit women face casteism and sexism. In a household, boy child have more access to nutrition than girl child. Now imagine one where the family is not financially capable of feeding all the children equally, female children are at a higher disadvantage.” According to the first phase findings of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) – 5, in households, where girls are born, studies have shown that they are breastfed for a shorter duration than boys, and hence consume less milk. Especially for families where preferences of boy child exist, girls are weaned earlier as parents keep trying for a boy child, thus compromising early on the nutritional needs.
The activist further brought an economic point of view into the discussion. She explained, “Many Dalit children hail from families who are mainly employed at the unorganized sector. Because of this, they have the added disadvantage of being from a weaker economic background.” As per the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021, five out of six individuals facing multidimensional poverty in India reside in households led by individuals from a Scheduled Tribe (ST), a Scheduled Caste (SC), or Other Backward Class (OBC). Approximately 100 million Dalits in India, constituting one-third of their total population, still experience multidimensional poverty. Despite a reduction in overall poverty in the last decade, Scheduled Castes, the official term for India's Dalit community, make up nearly one-fourth of the country's multidimensionally impoverished individuals.
History and Significance of National Girl Child Day:
Each year on 24th January, National Girl Child Day is celebrated, marking the anniversary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiation of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Scheme on January 22, 2015.
As a dedicated day to raise awareness about girls' rights, equality, and empowerment in society, National Girl Child Day holds significant importance. The primary objective of the annual celebration on 24th January is to foster awareness and combat bias against girls, advocating for their rights to health, education, and overall well-being. This observance seeks to create a more inclusive and equitable environment by emphasizing the importance of nurturing and supporting girl children. The ultimate goal is to pave the way for a future where every girl has the opportunity to thrive, achieve her aspirations, and contribute meaningfully to her community and the nation as a whole.