In the last several years, India has experienced a tectonic shift in its approach to gender equality, women’s rights and freedoms and the role played by women in the economic emancipation and prosperity of the nation.
The positive tilt towards addressing the gaps that have for so long remained entrenched in the Indian psyche and public expressions towards women is like the breaking of a new dawn. And we must welcome it.
For too long, women have been encumbered by the weight of patriarchal ideas and expressions. Our inexplicable obsession with how women should behave, where they should go and what they should do with their lives has distracted us from issues of real worth. The freedoms that belong to a woman have been snatched away at birth by social conditioning. As I look back, I am reminded of a moldy saying that has reverberated in the ears of girls for decades. That ‘girls should be seen and not be heard’ has reined in one too many history-making women and relentlessly shaped their souls for the worse.
Yet the last few years have seen a meteoric rise in the role of women in creating a powerful India. Unlike his predecessors, the Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, has openly invited women to partner in this noble and ambitious vision of nation-building. Take, for instance, the eight women appointed by the Modi Government as governors and Lieutenant Governors is the highest number so far. Also, the recently concluded exercise of cabinet expansion secured the highest ever representation for women in the last 17 years with 11 women inducted into the Union Council of Ministers. A feat worth celebrating, as it promotes the UN SDG 5.5 ensuring women’s participation in leadership at all levels of decision-making in public life. But as we celebrate the achievements at the national stage, it is worth considering the stellar efforts being made by states like Madhya Pradesh in this area.
With a slew of remarkable pro-women and pro-girl child policies, Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, has left no stone unturned in bringing about a change in the public attitude towards women and girls. In his quest to raise the status of females in the state, he has redefined policy-making and implementation with equal measures of courage, farsightedness, and innovation.
In 2006, at the start of his first term as the Chief Minister of India’s second-largest state of Madhya Pradesh, CM Chouhan pioneered the Laadli Laxmi Yojana. The MP government implemented this scheme with a laser-sharp focus and dogged determination to systematically address the parochial mindset concerning the birth of a girl child. Under this scheme, the state government provides the girl child with fixed amounts at every stage of school admission to encourage continued education. It begins with two thousand rupees for admission in class sixth and culminates with a provision of six thousand rupees for admission in class 12th.
Now, under the Laadli Laxmi Yojana 2.0, CM Chouhan has taken another bold step to provide 25 thousand rupees to girls pursuing college education. Following college education, the government will disburse a final payment of one lakh rupees at 21 years of age, if she has not been married before she attains the age of 18 years. The Laadli Laxmi has been a beacon of hope for the girl-child in the state and continues to remind everyone that girls are indeed a gift from God.
Although the Scheme was brought out with an explicit purpose to encourage the birth of girls in the state, especially, in the rural and semi-urban areas, it has empowered the underprivileged sections of the society to take a stand against female infanticide and put a tight lid on the ever-expanding gender gap. The results of the survey on sex ratio at birth recently published in the Health Management Information System (HMIS) bulletin of the State Health Department, has shed light on how the SRB in the state has increased steadily. From an unbelievably low number of 889 in 2011 to a remarkable growth figure of 939 in 2021, is evidence of CM Chouhan’s intent to empower the females in MP. The number plotted by Madhya Pradesh is considerably higher than the national average of 934 for the period of 2019-2020, which was published on the National Girl Child Day 2021, by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Over the years, the state government has taken strong measures to curb gender determination and sex selection after conception to affect a tangible increase in the SRB in favour of the girl child. Consequently, 24 districts of MP have shown a remarkable increase in Sex Ratio at Birth, as per the HMIS data released in April 2021. What is remarkable about this journey is how the citizens of smaller towns and cities have responded by catalyzing change. For instance, districts like Anuppur (985), Dewas (970), Rajgarh (971), Khandwa (939) and Sagar (956) have registered a high sex ratio.
CM Chouhan’s ability to develop and implement an innovative and bold policy measure has engendered a transformation by promoting UN SDG 5.1 to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls. This bold measure and its corresponding results have paved the way for the Chief Ministers of other states like UP, Bihar, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Goa to implement the Laadli Laxmi Scheme and empower the girls and women in their states, who form the axis of the Indian family system.
As CM Chouhan continues to launch many bold and innovative women and girl-child friendly schemes, Laadli Laxmi will continue to break all barriers to ensure that today’s girl is freed and let loose to become the woman-of-tomorrow to embrace her destiny.
[author title=”Dr Ram Rao Bhonsle, IAS, Director, Women and Child Development Department, Government of Madhya Pradesh” image=”http://”][/author]