THE different perceptions of sex-selective abortion as gender discrimination have led to strategies for intervention, social change, and reform initiated by the state, by concerned civil society initiatives and the women’s movements in the regions where it prevails. The liability of bringing up a girl-child is associated with the burden of dowry at the time of marriage. This instrumental rationality of the valuation of women has been countered by feminists, predictably and understandably, to establish and emphasise women’s substantial non-waged labour; their centrality to social reproduction and their contribution to household work, marginalised tasks, agricultural and other work. The women’s movement’s demand for recognition and equal wages for such work done by women has had a significant impact in this area. Simultaneously, the struggle to provide women with better legal access to inheritance and property, to employment, and to political influence is also a strategy of empowerment (Sunder Rajan 2003).
The state’s understanding of this linking of women’s survival so their economic worth has led to many incentives such as conditional cash transfer (CCT) schemes floated by various state governments and the central government. In 1992, the Tamil Nadu government announced the Puratchi Thalaivi Jayalalitha scheme’ for the girl child (named after the then chief minister of the state, and was subsequently renamed as the ‘Girl Child Protection scheme’) as a response to the female infanticide problem. It was a long-term incentive plan to help families maintain their girl children a sum of Rs. 500 would be given to her when various milestones were reached—on her first birthday, on enrolment in school, on the completion of Class VI and Class X, and finally a lump sum Rs. 20,000 would be awarded to her at the age 21, provided she passed Class X and remained unmarried until then. There were other eligibility conditions attached to this scheme: one of the parents should undergo sterilisation, the parents should have no sons, the annual income should not be above Rs. 12,000 a year, etc. This is the longest running scheme of its kind in the country. It is the forerunner of a number of schemes introduced in other states, e.g. Delhi’s and Haryana’s Ladli scheme, Madhya Pradesh’s Ladli Lakshmi Yojana, and Andhra Pradesh’s Girl Child Protection scheme.
In a national meeting on ‘Save the Girl Child’ on 28 April 2000, the then prime minister noted that no nation, no society, no community can hold its head high and claim to be part of the civilised world if it condones the practice of discriminating against one half of humanity represented by women.’ He went on to add that the various schemes undertaken by certain state governments such as the Dikri Bachao campaign of Gujarat, GCPS of Tamil Nadu, Devi Rupak Scheme of Haryana, Ladli campaign of Delhi and the scheme for cash incentives to panchayats for improving the village sex ratio of Punjab are good steps’ (Srinivasan and Bedi 2009). This linkage of the addressing of gender discrimination through the schemes mentioned here by the prime minister as ‘good steps’ needs to be critically assessed through the theoretical framework of a syncretic feminist perspective and an intersec-tionality approach.
Evaluation of the scheme in Tamil Nadu has been done by Srinivasan and Bedi (2009) and Sunder Rajan (2003). While Sunder Rajan dismisses the scheme as ineffectual and not actually addressing the core issues of gender discrimination, Srinivasan and Bedi mention that a close look at the scheme reveals that its implementation is not targeted at districts with a high prevalence of female infanticide, that it assumes that only poor families are anti -daughters, and given the sterilization conditionality that families with only daughters and strong son preference are not likely to volunteer. Also to what extent it has altered attitudes towards daughters is still not clear.
TV Sekher in a succinct desk review of 15 CCT schemes regarding girl child in India comes to the conclusion that there are numerous problems with the design, intent and delivery of these schemes. He also refers to the ineffectiveness of these cash transfer schemes to improve the status of the girl child in India (Sekher 2012).
The concept of such conditional cash transfer schemes originated in Latin American countries mainly in response to the macroeconomic crisis of the 1990s when the demand for social services such as education and health from poorer households was perceived to have declined drastically These programmes thus represent a shift in governmental approach that earlier focused on the supply-side delivery of basic services to focus on the demand side by protecting the consumption of merit goods (Prabhu 2009), Conditional cash transfers are different from unconditional cash transfers which are cash grants in the form of social security measures which make no attempt to influence individual/household consumption preferences whereas the main purpose of the CCTs is to do so.
A formal adoption of the CCT approach was done by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, in March 2008 called ‘Dhanalakshmi’ or the CCT scheme for girl child, with an insurance cover. The scheme as a pilot was decided to be implemented in eleven blocks across seven States —Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Cash transfers are provided under the scheme to the family of the girl child (preferably to the mother) on fulfilling the following conditions: birth registration of the girl-child, progress of immunisation, and enrolment and retention in school. In addition, the girl child born on or after the cut-off date as notified is entitled to an insurance cover/maturity benefit to the tune of Rs. 1, 00,000 through the Life Insurance Corporation of India, provided she does not get married before attaining the age of 18 years. The schemes in Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Delhi pertaining to the girl-child are similar to these CCTs.
The Ladli schemes in Haryana and Delhi are taken up for analysis in greater detail here. Both the schemes have been lauded by the respective states as having had a positive impact on the declining sex ratio and bringing about a turnaround in the child sex ratio with the number of girls in the 0-6 years being more than boys. The 2001 Census reports reveals Delhi’s child sex ratio as 868 to 1000 boys and Haryana’s as 834 to 1000.
The analysis of the schemes was done by gathering information from the Haryana state government offices and Delhi state government offices. Field visits to Gurgaon district in Haryana and South Delhi district in Delhi were also part of it. Conversations with middle level functionaries in Gurgaon, Haryana and Delhi from the Department of Women and Child Development and Department of Social ‘Welfare, which are in charge of handling the schemes, and interviews with programme coordinator of Mission Convergence, South District, Delhi and programme coordinators of Gender Resource Centres (GRCs), who are dealing with the enrolment for the scheme in Delhi, informed the understanding of the issue. Group discussions with beneficiaries and social workers in the field were also held.
FOUR primary objectives were identified for this enquiry: the first was to describe the principal elements of the schemes, the second was to delve into the contestations, challenges and contradictions within it to address the issue of sex-selective abortion as gender discrimination; the third was to look into the opportunities that it provides to address the issue of sex-selective abortion as gender discrimination; and the fourth was to examine the implications of the schemes under the theoretical framework of a syncretic feminist perspective with an intersectionality approach.
The Ladli scheme in Haryana was launched in 2005 and was an upscaling of its earlier Devi Rupak Yojana. The word ‘Ladli,’ which means the darling of the family, was initially the name given to a campaign launched by the NGO ‘Population First’ of Mumbai, supported by UNFPA to counter the unwantedness or the aversion of daughters leading to sex-selective abortion in India. The campaign was in an awareness generation and advocacy mode. The aim of using a positive terminology was also to move away from earlier discourses which emphasised the issue of missing girls and the negative side of sex-selective abortion which are violence, discrimination and death. The word ‘Ladli’ was to bring to the fore the value of the girl-child in the family and the emotive connections of the family with her. This positive, benign and well meaning strategy was taken up by other states with the UNFPA shaping policy discourses around the issue. In Haryana this scheme has been planned with certain conditionalities.
There are two parallel Ladli schemes in Haryana. One is the Ladli scheme for the girl child and the other is the Ladli pension plan for families with only daughters. The Ladli scheme for the girl child was launched in 2005 and the Government of Haryana extended the scheme up to 2015-16. Under this scheme Rs. 5,000 per year is invested under a group insurance scheme of Life Insurance Corporation of India in the name of the second daughter born in a family. A maturity amount of approximately Rs. 90,000 to Rs. 1,00,000 would, thus, be available to the second daughter when she attains the age of 18. All families who are residents of Haryana or having Haryana domicile are eligible irrespective of their income and number of sons, provided there is at least one alive real sister of the second girl child in the family. The other conditionalities of the scheme are: at least one of the parents along with the girl children should be residing in Haryana; the birth of both the girl children should be registered; the parents should ensure proper immunisation of both the girl children and immunisation record (as per age of the girl children) may be produced at the time of receiving each payment; both sisters should be enrolled in school/Anganwadi centre as per their age; even if the parents of the second girl child are receiving benefit under any other scheme like Balika Samridhi Yojana, they will still be entitled to benefit under this scheme.
The Ladli Pension Scheme of Government of Haryana called ‘Ladli Social Security Allowance Scheme’ was launched on 1 January 2006. It provides for parents who have only daughters ‘to remove sense of insecurity.’ Under the scheme, Rs. 500 per month is paid to the family from the 45th birthday of the father/mother (whoever is older) till their 60th birthday, i.e. for 15 years. A separate scheme (Old Age Samman Allowance @ Rs. 500 per month to all senior citizens) starts after the 60th year.
THE elements of the two plans are distinct from each other and overlap at times to position itself as a holistic scheme with synergy between them. The scheme thus addresses a number of issues in its two avatars which may be said to be derived from an analysis of the patterns of daughter discrimination, aversion and elimination in Haryana.
Almost on similar lines, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi launched its own Ladli scheme in 2008. Although the broad objective of the scheme remains the same, i.e. to encourage families to have girl child and to curb sex-selective abortion, the Delhi Ladli scheme puts additional conditionalities related to continued education of the girl child and has positioned the scheme for low-income group families only.
The scheme is available to two girl children per family (any two girl children). The enrolment of the girl child starts at birth when the Government deposits Rs. 10,000 in the bank account if the girl child is delivered at home and Rs. 11,000 if it was an institutional delivery. Additional Rs. 5,000 is deposited in the bank account on each occasion when the girl child is enrolled in Class I, VI, and IX, respectively. Rs. 5,000 more is deposited when the child passes Class X. Passing Class X is important as the failure to do so will result in the beneficiary forfeiting the entire amount deposited till this point. Once past this post when the girl child enrols in Class XI, she will get the final instalment of Rs. 5,000. A girl born after 1 January 2008 and enrolled at birth under the scheme will get around Rs. 1, 00,000 at the age of 18. Others who join midway will get the amount deposited along with interest when they attain this age.
The conditionalities of the Delhi Ladli scheme include: the total annual income of the family should be below Rs. 1, 00,000; the beneficiary girl should have been born in Delhi and the family should have been staying in Delhi at least for the last three years; and only two girl children per family can be covered under the scheme.
There are three main objectives of the scheme as stated by government functionaries operationalising the scheme. First, to curb sex-selective abortion — this is a very important objective and, therefore, the scheme has made special provisions for institutional and non-institutional birth (Rs. 11,000 and Rs. 10,000, respectively). The amount is immediately sanctioned in the name of the girl thereby emphasising that daughters are truly Rs. Lakshmis’ (Goddess of wealth) of their homes. Second, to improve school enrolment, as the next tranche of payment is made when the girl is admitted in Class I. Third, in order to reduce the school drop-out rate, the payment is made at five stages during school years — in the Class I, Class III, Class VI, Class IX and then after passing Class X.
FINAL tranche is paid in Class XII. Government documents and discussions with government functionaries in charge of carrying out the implementation of the scheme reveal that the aim of the scheme is to eradicate sex-selective abortion, promote the cause of girl-child education especially in the context of poor families and enhance the status of the girl child within poor families. It is based on the assumption that given the perception of girls as an economic burden, it is necessary to enhance their economic worth by providing financial support to families that bring up daughters. It is mainly targeted at poor families and families just marginally over the poverty line.
The number of beneficiaries in the first year were 1,35,000 and in the second year it was 1,51,000. While the number of beneficiaries has increased significantly, there is a need to critically assess the reach of the scheme, especially in the context of countering sex-selective abortion as gender discrimination. District specific data from Delhi do reveal that the scheme has beneficiaries from all districts.
In Gurgaon, Haryana, the number of beneficiaries in the rural areas far outnumbered the number of beneficiaries in the urban areas. There was a huge contrast between the number of beneficiaries under the Ladli Girl Child Scheme and the Ladli Pension Scheme. Most of these beneficiaries were accessing the Ladli Girl Child Scheme. As far as the Ladli Pension Scheme is concerned, there were only about two to three beneficiaries in each district. The main reason for these dismal numbers under the Ladli Pension Scheme is the miniscule monthly pension, i.e. Rs. 500 per month per family, and the condition of having only daughters.
Contradictions, Contestations and Challenges : Premature Celebration or Fact?
The claims made by both Delhi and Haryana state governments are that there has been a turnaround in the declining sex ratio due to the Ladli schemes. They have presented the inter-censal birth registration data of that period as the corroborating evidence for it. However, this has been challenged by both demographers and activists working in the field. Middle level functionaries who are in charge of implementation of the scheme provide support to this by agreeing that it is not the sex ratio which has turned around, but the registration of girls at birth which has increased. Registration of births even of non-institutional delivery is a mandatory eligibility for accessing the scheme and that is the primary reason for the results.
Sharma and Haub have presented a critique of this premature celebration of the improvement of sex ratio in Delhi. Their main arguments are that according to the annual report for 2008, the number of total births registered was 333,908 of which 166,583 were boys and 167,325 were girls, giving a sex ratio of 1,004 girl babies per 1,000 boy babies. The number of registered births during 2007 was 322,044 of which 174,289 were boys and only 147,755 were girls! That gave a sex ratio of only 848 in 2007 (Sharma and Haub 2010). They question the sudden spurt in the birth of girls during this period. The Government of NCT of Delhi has stated that the higher number of registered births of girls during 2008 manifests a dip in sex-selective abortion and infanticide and to some extent to the effective Implementation of the Ladli scheme.
This needs to be looked into in depth. According to them, the Ladli scheme envisaged that those girls who were born on or after 1 January 2008, are entitled to cash and non-cash incentives. This resulted in the registration of a large number of girl birth during 2008. During the month of January 2008 alone, a higher number of girl births were registered and the sex ratio was 1,090 girl births per 1,000 boy births. From February to June 2008, the sex ratio for registered births continued to be favourable for girls. However, during the second half of 2008 — July to December — the sex ratio declined and hovered around 975. Sharma and Haub reiterate, ‘the question which immediately comes to one’s mind is: Why was the higher number of girl births in comparison to boys reported immediately after the announcement of the Ladli scheme and less in the second half of the year? This may perhaps call for verification of the bona fides of beneficiaries’ (Sharma and Haub 2010).
FURTHER, a sizeable number of registered births are non-institutional. During 2007 the share of the non-institutional births was higher in the case of boys (25.4 per cent) than girls (24.9 per cent). During 2008 the share of non-institutional births was higher in the case of girls (30.0 per cent) than boys (23.1 per cent). The actual place of occurrence of non-institutional births can be quite difficult to verify. Interestingly, the sex ratio of the registered births during January-June 2008, taken together, works out to 1,048 which then declined to 969 in respect of those births which took place during July-December 2008. Why this shortfall? There is every possibility that some parents might have got the benefit of the scheme on the basis of false claims. The non-institutional girl births which took place outside Delhi might have been registered here. This argument is strengthened by the fact that the higher registration of girl births started immediately after the announcement of the Ladli scheme and this continued for the first half and declined in the second half of 2008. During the four months since the launch of the Ladli scheme, the Delhi government opened 6,000 fixed deposit accounts and another 23,000 more claims were being processed. One should thus be careful in interpreting this first high sex ratio among the registered births in Delhi and verify the factual position (Sharma and Haub 2010).
The Shagun scheme — which provides Rs. 15,000 to eligible Scheduled Castes girls upon marriage — in Punjab has come under scanner where some people received money thrice even though it could only be given twice, received three cheques for one daughter and even issueless mothers received money. According to Sharma and Haub, ‘the Delhi government should take heed of the possibility of misuse of an excellent and well-intentioned programme, something that can happen anywhere when a windfall of funds is involved (Sharma and Haub 2010).
While Sharma and Haub present valid arguments against the government’s claim that sex ratios have turned around and sex-selective abortion has been countered, they call the scheme ‘excellent and well-intentioned.’ In order to understand how excellent or well-intentioned the schemes are, it is essential to delve into the problems of tackling gender discrimination through conditional cash transfers which raises no questions about the entrenched power structures, institutions and embedded cultures that lead to gender discriminatory practices like sex-selective abortion.
The Issue of Women’s Worth : Can Money Buy me Love?
One of the contradictions noted is that while the scheme in Delhi is targeted at poor families, the poor are not the main culprits when it comes to sex-selective abortion. The monetary incentives offered by the state to families to preserve and raise their children, as also the income-level limit imposed for a family’s eligibility are proposals based on the assumption that poverty is the chief underlying cause of the problem (Sunder Rajan 2003). Studies have shown that sex-selective abortion is mainly an upper class, upper caste practice and is unfathomably linked to higher levels of education in women. Data from Census 2001 analysed by Bhat and Zavier reveal that the sex ratio at birth is more likely to be masculine for mothers with more education (Bhat and Zavier 2007). Sunder Rajan (2003) and Srinivasan and Bedi (2009) also establish that education and prosperity appear to facilitate knowledge of access to and the use of technology for sex selection.
While agreeing with Sunder Rajan and Srinivasan and Bedi on the link between prosperity and education with sex-selective abortion, focused group discussions with beneficiaries of the scheme reveal a growing phenomenon. The aspirations for upward mobility amongst the poor have made them adopt the ways and means of the rich and prosperous when it comes to sex-selective abortion. For example, the beneficiaries who belonged to the Ambedkar Nagar in South Delhi (an urban cluster whose population mainly consisted of marginalised castes who were also economically weaker) were well aware of the availability of medical facilities aiding sex-selective abortion. Men who had accompanied their wives and older women who had accompanied their daughters-in-law to the group discussions enthusiastically shared their in-depth knowledge of the practice. Sex selective abortion according to them was commonly practiced by their community members. The amount reportedly charged for sex determination was Rs. 500 and for termination of pregnancy it was Rs. 3,000, an amount which increased if the term of pregnancy was advanced.
To a question whether the scheme has brought about any change in the practice, a complex set of responses were provided by the group. The majority felt that in the case of the second born daughter the scheme leads to a weighing of options since the scheme offers Rs. 1, 00,000 for the daughter compared to at least Rs. 3,500 which they need to get rid of the female foetus. The families then decide to the daughter (female foetus) in this case. The Additional Director in charge of the Ladli scheme in Delhi says, ‘In the context of poor families it is sheer economics at work. The girl child is not welcome because of the scheme; the scheme is welcome because the girl-child is a liability.”
However, the beneficiaries were not forthcoming on the aspect of the third pregnancy. Families with two daughters did not consider their families as complete without a son. While they did not openly share it, it was clear and implicit in their silence that the third pregnancy could be subjected to the practice of sex determination and sex-selective abortion, if required. So in a limited and technical manner the scheme does in some sense prevent sex-selective abortion, but it only scratches the top of the surface without addressing the core issues of gender discrimination. The inclusion of the third daughter under the scheme may be able to address some of these concerns. It would also be able to considerably lessen the psycho-social damage that a living third daughter faces in a family where the other two daughters are beneficiaries of the scheme.
STUDIES by Mary John (2008) and others also show that sex-selective abortion is no longer an upper class, upper caste, urban phenomenon; the aspirational motives for upward mobility do reveal it in the poor and also amongst the scheduled castes who had been earlier egalitarian, with no reported cases of female infanticide, where women had greater mobility and occupational value and dowry was unheard of (John 2008). However, it is essential that the programme goes beyond the poor since daughter aversion and sex-selective abortion due to it is more widespread. A substantial effect on this form of gender discrimination can be possible only then.
Women as Liability : Dowry and Marriage
One of the major contradictions of the scheme is that while it is designed on the premise that the girl-child is considered an economic liability because of dowry, the manner and method of accessing the scheme leads to the reinforcing of the system of dowry itself. The girl will access the money when she is 18 years, the legal age of marriage for girls. Focused group discussions with beneficiaries both in Gurgaon and Delhi revealed that the majority of them wanted to use the money for their daughter’s marriage.
Sixty per cent of the girls in the group discussion who had filled up the form in 2009, and who were eligible to access it in 2010, said that they would like to use the money for their own marriage. Neha, 18, said that she wanted to spend the money on a Rs. 10,000 worth wedding lehenga and a beauty parlour package worth Rs. 4,500. The spiral of a consumerist market and the notions of high spending and beautification around the institution of marriage have created a desire which is essentially gender discriminatory, but has caught the imagination of young girls across class, caste, community barriers. So although it was dear that the promise of cash transfers has brought about a sense of security and self confidence in women and girls, there was little evidence of changes in their decision-making roles or bargaining power and even less evidence of increased voice within the community. The notions of marriage, beauty and sexuality were all wrapped together and reinforced as a marketable good which enhanced self-worth.
Dreze has, therefore, questioned the wisdom of bribing parents to keep their daughters, thereby reinforcing the notion that they are a liability. According to Sabu George’s findings, the incentive money itself is sometimes used for dowry (Sunder Rajan 2003).
The Idea of Co-responsibility
The scheme’s attempt at addressing school enrolment and retaining school dropouts had escaped the attention of the beneficiaries. In fact when it was shared that a girl would have to forfeit the amount if she does not pass Class X, the beneficiaries were anxiety-ridden with this conditionality. Conditional cash transfers were pioneered in Latin America and their design embodies the new social policy principles of community involvement and co-responsibility. Co-responsibility is formalised through a quasi-contractual understanding that in return for the entitlements proffered by the programme, certain obligations have to be discharged by the two parties. Failure to comply with the requirements can lead to being struck off the programme. The cash transfer element is intended to provide short-term assistance to poor Families while the conditionality element aims to promote longer-term capital investments in the next generation (the idea of ‘co-responsibility’ has been provided by Maxine Molyneux as explained in Kabeer; Kabeer 2010: 11.8).
THE beneficiaries of the Ladli scheme, on the contrary, had very little or no awareness of the co-responsibility of completing their daughters’ education. There was also no discernible sign of community involvement in discussing or debating about the conditionalities. The schemes were disseminated in Haryana through the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and in Delhi through the Gender Resource Centres (GRCs) which were part of the umbrella system of the Mission Convergence. For girls who filled the forms at school level, the responsibility of distributing the scheme was with the school teachers and principals. The level of understanding on the core issues of co-responsibility and community participation was very limited even with them. Schools devised their own methods of distribution. Some beneficiaries who have accessed the scheme at the school level shared that the teachers distributed forms to four meritorious girl students in the class and asked the rest to access it from a kiosk in a far-off area.
While in Brazil and Mexico, the success of CCTs has been due to a high level of awareness of the concepts of co-responsibility and community participation, in India the Ladli scheme was seen more in terms of alleviating the insecurity and anguish of having given birth to a burden, a paternalistic handout, a charity by the state rather than a programme which involved dual responsibilities and accountability. The responsibility of educating and empowering her had not percolated down in terms of even basic understanding. Again, while in Brazil the process of obtaining the documents (such as birth certificates and identity cards) in order to register and apply for the Bolsa Familia, the flagship CCT in the developing world today, led to earlier isolated community members to achieve a sense of belongingness and relate to their sense of being citizens, in India this process was found cumbersome especially due to the inefficiency and corruption that marks public offices and the low level of literacy and Lack of time that the poor have in order to do so.
The transitionary living and working conditions along-with poor access to health care, education and security of work make it extremely difficult for the poor to bail out time for obtaining such certificates. Girija Sahu, the coordinator of the District Resource Centre, South Delhi, of Mission Convergence says:
Those who get left out of the loop may be the most deserving, however the process of obtaining certificates is sometimes so difficult that they enter into a vicious cycle and finally can never access the schemes they want to. Corruption is so universally accepted that the poor themselves offer some bribe even when they are filling up the forms taken to them by workers of the Gender Resource Centres. Sometimes they are fleeced by third parties who are aware of their gullibility leading to a failure of such programmes. Moreover, irrespective of the scrutiny done by the Gender Resource Centres, it is clear that in many cases the beneficiaries are frauds, people who have used unfair means to obtain certification.
The implementation of the programme is also fraught with problems. Administrative decisions to change the system of sanctioning amounts leads to inordinate delays which make people lose faith in the system and in the credibility of the Gender Resource Centre or the PRIs which are in direct touch with them.
THE evaluation of the Ladli scheme, based on the views of the middle level functionaries who are in charge of implementing it, is that it can do wonders for education of the girl-children and this needs to be emphasised when talking about the scheme. However, the quality of schooling leaves much to be desired. While conditionalities were all imposed on the beneficiaries and they would be ejected if they failed in Class X, there was no reciprocal obligation on part of the teachers or the institution or the state to provide them with better level of education under what Molyneux calls ‘co-responsibility’.
More girls are attending school today due to ongoing concerted efforts like Right to Education, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and other such initiatives. This picture of improved participation of girls in education needs to be framed around the remarkable demographic change that has taken place in gender gap at birth which can be attributed to the persistence of gender discriminatory child-rearing practices, to the growing popularity of new pre-birth sex determination technology and easier access to sex-selective abortion facilities. This phenomenon, which has evolved as a parallel process during the same period in which rapid increase has occurred in girl’s access to primary education, has a modern face in as much as it is associated with symptoms of modernity, such as the spread of literacy and education among women and urbanisation (Kumar 2010: 83). This picture forces us to conclude that while the state’s effort to bring a greater number of girls to school has made immense progress, the number of girls in the overall population have decreased considerably due to gender discriminatory practices like sex-selective abortion.
Krishna Kumar points out that this contradictory picture helps us view and assess the state’s overall policy and performance in the context of girl’s childhood rather than in the context of girl’s education alone. Girls’ enrolment is increasing in a socially regressive environment. More girls are getting educated, but in an ethos which emphatically conveys its negative view of girls. Those who are studying can hardly be expected to escape or overlook this broader message, particularly because they are getting educated, even as they might-benefit from education in different ways (Kumar 2010: 83). The enrolment and retention of girls in school thus needs to take into account quality of education which questions gender stereotypes, provides an opportunity to challenge dominant images and to understand the dynamics of the reproduction of inequality in education.
Finally, the education received by the poor does not bring rewards in terms of economic returns. On the contrary, they experience long periods of unemployment in the reserve army of labour and become VuInerable to discrimination in terms of work and wages (Velaskar 2003). Hemlata, a beneficiary of the scheme who was part of the group discussion during this research, was already enrolled in a correspondence course to pursue a B.A. programme. (She was interested in a law degree but was not aware of how to do so). The design of the programmes did not serve to advance women’s economic security or autonomy. There was little in the way of aptitude testing, training for the job market or child care provisions later in their lives if they wanted to study, train or work.
THE criticisms draw attention to the fact that such programmes represent single instruments of social policy and cannot be expected on their own to address the underlying causes of the problems that gave rise to them. They also point to the need to link these programmes to changes in the wider policy environment in which they are located (Kabeer 2010: 140).
The syncretic feminist perspective brings in the two dimensions of inclusion and reconceptualisation here. Inclusion of women and girls within programmes, and their access to political, economic and social rights are derived from the principles of liberal feminism. The idea of reconceptualisation is derived from radical and postmodern feminism. While the liberal feminist perspective would emphasise on formal equality and political participation, the radical feminist’s main concern here would help to question the power structures at play whether within the state agencies or the educational institutions. Post-modern feminism cautions about treating women as a homogeneous category and the intersectionality approach would be to delve into the class, caste, community, race, ethnicity and age dimensions. The implications of this theoretical framework in this context are that anti-gender discriminatory programmes in India demand much more than just cash transfers. They require addressing many challenges like implementing gender-sensitive laws, building women-friendly educational institutions, and providing quality education which counters gender stereotypes and creates a truly egalitarian ethos. It should also include leveraging markets for the poor and marginalised women, along with skill development, and vibrant collectives with ideas based on partici-pation and sustainability.