Proximity to the elections has resulted in the new normal for India where journalists have started to selectively read statistics. A couple of years ago, it was said that journalists are supposed to be generalists, they must have breadth in terms of understanding rather than having depth subject. These days, however, they claim to be experts in every subject without realizing the limitations of their understanding of intricate issues related to public policy, governance and economics.
A key issue policy consideration is the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao which has witnessed an unprecedented success under the Modi Government. It is known that there has been a huge gender gap in enrollment rates as Indians tend to avoid sending girl children to schools. There were multiple reasons behind them with an important factor being the lack of toilets for girls in public schools. Prime Minister Narendra Modi realized this problem early during his days in Gujarat and he took on the responsibility to construct toilets in schools for girl children. In fact, the Prime Minister who was then the Chief Minister was very proactive in ensuring that the girl children are not deprived of education as he personally made it a point to oversee the progress.
It came as no surprise when he resumed office, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao was one of the earliest policies that were announced by him. From the ramparts of Red Fort, for the first time, the Prime Minister on 15th August 2014 dared to speak about the challenges that India faced- including lack of toilets and this was unprecedented. He showed India a mirror that it desperately needed while ending his speech by promising to work towards overcoming each of these challenges.
The experience of the Prime Minister while he was the Chief Minister came in handy towards ensuring the success of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. (To see why it is a success refer to the figure below on Gender Enrollment for men and women- the gap has successfully reduced). Toilets were just one part of the problem as what was also required was the need to spread awareness and change the attitude of people towards the education of the girl child. As a result, an unprecedented campaign to spread awareness was launched across the country. The two most critical impediments towards improving the enrollment rates for women were simultaneously targeted through concentrated government action.
The Prime Minister led the campaign from the front when he used social media for awareness purposes by running the #SelfieWithDaughter campaign. A lot of my liberal friends wrote it off by saying that it won’t have an impact, but they failed to recognize the symbolic impact of such a gesture. The conservative attitude and unwillingness to change behaviour have historically been a major reason behind why most of our campaigns have failed to create a significant impact on the ground. In a diverse country like India, changing behaviour and attitude of people takes a lot of time and money, however, with the Prime Minister leading a high-pitched campaign along with concentrated policy action combined with an outreach and engagement program has largely been successful towards causing this change.
While people may criticize the spending on advertisements, the fact remains that data never lies, and it shows how concentrated policy action with the outreach program has almost bridged the gender gap in enrollment rates. This is important because the sex ratio in India is already skewed so somehow this data categorically demonstrates the success of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program.
While people may selectively look at the advertisement spending, the reality remains that the outreach and awareness program was critical towards ensuring the success of the program along with the ambitious project of construction of toilets for girls across all schools.
Advertisement Chalao. https://t.co/r3QymidPo4
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) January 22, 2019
Rahul Gandhi has depended on a Leftist portal, habitual of spinning facts to suit their narrative, to insinuate that the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme is a failute because a bulk of the funds have spent in ‘advertisement’. The fact remains that the scheme itself is an awareness campaigne and a large part of creating awareness is advertising. One key element of Beti Padhao Beti Bachao is nation-wide awareness and advocacy campaign, hence the high media spend. But, of course, expecting Rahul Gandhi or his pet media to be aware of facts is a tall ask, one which is never going to get fulfilled.
Interestingly, since 1947 Indian National Congress has governed India for the most part yet, according to 24 Akbar Road (the book), the Indian National Congress headquarters has not a single dedicated toilet for women. This shows the apathy of the Congress towards the cause of “Women Empowerment” despite Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi being at the helm of affairs.
I wonder if those who’re questioning the spending on awareness under the program have ever questioned why the headquarters of Indian National Congress does not have a specially dedicated toilet for women? Perhaps, Rahul ji was waiting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji to help construct a toilet at the INC headquarters just like Congress was waiting for the Prime Minister to electrify all villages and households across India.
Gunja Kapoor is a policy analyst based in New Delhi. She tweets at @gunjakapoor