Where ʻNo One Wanted Girls,ʼ a Dad in India Takes On the Patriarchy

Source: Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

India’s deeply patriarchal culture has and continues to contribute to the country’s persistent gender disparity. But one man is committed to making a difference.

Sunil Jaglan, a village headman, has fiercely championed change in the way India’s society views the role and value of women and girls. Families often favor the birth of boys over girls, especially in rural areas of the country where hefty dowry payments are considered burdensome.

In the state of Haryana, where Jaglan’s village is located, the female to male ratio has historically been one of the most imbalanced in India. According to the New York Times, in 2012, the state had 832 females per 1,000 males, and Jaglan’s village of Bibipur, with about 1,000 households, had one of the most skewed sex ratios in favor of males in the entire state.

Direct contributors to the low rates of female births were prenatal sex testing and female fetus abortions. Following the birth of his own daughter, Jaglan’s priority as village headman was to restrict prenatal sex testing. As part of this campaign, Jaglan controversially made it mandatory for families in his village to report a pregnancy within four weeks. If suspected of taking prenatal sex tests, the women’s families were subject to arrest “on the assumption that the pregnant woman herself had little or no say in the decision.”

In four short years, Jaglan’s strategy improved birth ratios in his village from 37 girls to 63 boys to 51 girls to 49 boys. Spreading across the state of Haryana, the act of reporting pregnancies has effectively helped “improve the [state’s] sex-ratio balance to 926 women per 1,000 men in 2020-21, from 876 in 2015-16.”

Jaglan has launched approximately 100 campaigns, including the social media campaign #SelfieWithDaughter which gained traction with the participation of Indian cricketers and movie stars. This social media movement encouraged families to take pictures with their daughters and share them on social media. Another initiative advocated for the installment of name plates outside the homes of villagers, usually a tradition reserved for boys.

Jaglan has vowed to continue his efforts to corrode female feticide. His advocacy for women’s rights has shed light on the value and importance of women and girls in society. Today, in Haryana, the banging of pots and pans celebrates the birth of girls, “a ritual earlier reserved for the birth of a boy…”

Citation: Yasir, Sameer. “Where ‘no One Wanted Girls,’ a Dad in India Takes on the Patriarchy.” The New York Times, August 4, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/04/world/asia/sunil-jaglan-india-haryana-womens-rights.html