On January 16 this year, Haryana’s chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar proudly announced that the state’s sex ratio hit 903 girls for every 1000 boys, reaching the 900 mark for the first time in a decade. He went on to attribute this to the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign, one of many schemes implemented by Haryana’s government in women’s rights efforts. As we turn our gaze to the Apni Beti Apna Dhan scheme introduced in the state in 1994, however, the paradox it resulted in is hard to swallow. So we decided question the long term effectiveness of monetary-based incentives as a whole.
Breaking Down Haryana’s Sex Ratios
The northern state of Haryana has one of the worst sex ratios in the country (number of women per 1000 men), as per the 2011 Indian census. Although it saw an improvement from the last census in 2001 (from 861 to 879 in 2011), it still ranks as one of the lowest in the country. While that might just sound like numbers, as much of raw data does, it needs to be put into context to be understood.
A country, state, city or area’s recorded sex ratio is an indicator of several other factors relating to that society, and, when coupled with other data such as female workforce numbers, male-female wage comparison, male-female age of marriage comparison and so on, the picture is infused with clarity and colour. Turning our flashlight to the factor of literacy, the same census recorded female literacy as 65.94 percent (which was 55.73 in 2001), while male literacy was 84.06 percent (which was 78.49 in 2001), showing that the rate for women increased more than that of men.
Social conditioning, patriarchy, rural-urban divide (65.12 percent of Haryana is rural, that is 16,509,359 of the total 25,351,462), and so on: all these reasons could explain the low female literacy in this state as well, although it has seen a nearly 10 percent increase in the last 10 years. In the 90s, however, Haryana’s government identified one of the core problems to be the low age of marriage for girls in the state, compelling them to drop out of school to be wed, thus adversely effecting their literacy rate.
Aimed to kill three birds with one stone—improving female literacy, curbing child marriage and incentivizing families to keep the girl child—Haryana’s government introduced a monetary-incentivized scheme from 1994 to 1998 that would reap benefits 2012 onwards, when the girls enrolled in the scheme turned 18. But, as we can see now, those benefits came with their set of limitations, despite the scheme’s intentions.
Apni Beti Apna Dhan: The Haryana government’s incentive scheme
Between 1994 and 1998, the Government of Haryana implemented a scheme known as the Apni Beti Apna Dhan scheme. As per its provisions, every girl child registered with the scheme born in Haryana between October 1, 1994 and December 31, 1998 to Scheduled Caste, Backward Class, or below the poverty line families, or non-gazetted officers, would receive an incentive of Rs. 25,000 when the girl turned 18 on the condition that she was still unmarried. Mothers even received Rs. 500 within 15 days of the delivery, with the entire sum payable 18 years later.
In theory, this plan’s objective was threefold. First, it incentivized families to keep the girl child—a seemingly simple step towards improving Haryana’s skewed sex ratio. Second, it incentivized girls and their parents to wait until the legal marriageable age to have them wed--a theoretically good idea to curb child marriage. Third, it took away one of the reasons that caused girls to drop out of school, urging them to complete their education till the age of 18, thus improving the general educational status of women.
While the female literacy rate in Haryana has improved over the last decade and a half, the problems plaguing Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) like ABAD cannot be ignored, especially when the issues it aims to tackle are those of embedded ideology, deep-seated patriarchy, long-term traditions, and seemingly commonplace practices, and need more than monetary incentives to overturn. Further, as analyst Hari Seshasayee observed in his analysis of the challenges facing CCTs in India, “Two Indian scholars at the Harvard Kennedy School, Kartik Akileswaran and Arvind Nair, stress that the Indian state is not ready for the switch to cash. Their argument is based on two primary rationalisations: first, India requires “significant additional capability in identifying households and in linking households to bank accounts” and secondly, the “increase in economic welfare will only be realised if the cash transfer is equivalent in purchasing power to the subsidy.”
In December 1997, the Hindu Vivek Kendra published an Observer report titled ‘Haryana’s Apni Beti Apna Dhan scheme starts paying off’. Sudhir Rajpal, the then Gurgaon additional deputy commissioner, was quoted in the report, “According to the record of births and deaths, the female infant mortality has registered a significant decline in Mewat and among economically weaker sections since the introduction of the scheme. More and more women beneficiaries of the scheme are opting for the small family norm, as is evident from the statistics of the district’s family welfare department.”However, while the scheme seemed to ‘pay off’ marginally, it’s long-term consequences observed in 2012 were quite contrary.
ICRW uncovers the ABAD paradox
A study conducted by Priya Nanda of the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) analysed the impact of Haryana’s ABAD scheme in 2012 (as the first group of enrolled girls turned 18). While the objective of this scheme was primarily to focus on the educational prosperity of these girls, the mechanism in which it functioned in practice was very different from how it was theorized.
For starters, Nanda’s analysis explains the perception of this scheme as it was received by the people of Haryana. While the ‘burden of a girls marriage’ is a dominant concern, this scheme was looked at from the same lens, and erroneously referred to as the ‘Kanyadan’ scheme by mothers. That is, implying that the monetary compensation provided by Haryana’s government was to be repurposed as expenses for the girl’s marriage. The report even found that the lump sum received when the girl turned 18 went towards paying for marriage expenses, and the compensation never truly benefitted the girl’s higher education as intended, making this scheme an ineffective one in this regard.
While raising the value of girls through education was a primary focus of this incentive, herein lies the ABAD paradox. Nanda’s report stated that the girls under this scheme were more likely to complete their schooling until the 8th grade than girls who weren’t under the scheme, but the incentive did not translate to a higher percentage of girls in secondary and post-secondary education. Post the 8th grade, other structural factors came into play, and their strong influence outshone that of the ABAD scheme. This could be attributed to the fact that while ABAD did successfully curb child marriage, the incentive only increased the age of marriage by two or three years. Girls enrolled in the scheme were wed just as they turned 18 and the monetary incentive was collected, putting an end to their education.
New schemes, old habits
The last census reported that Haryana had 2,26,892 child brides in 2011. Owing to the state’s extremely low sex ratio and sex ratio at birth, the state’s government attempted to implement a series of other, similar schemes in the last few years.
On the occasion of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday, the Ladli scheme was started in 2005. The Department of Women and Child Development described, ‘The objective of the scheme is to raise the status of the girl child in the family and in the society and to change the mindsets of the people for proper rearing of the girl children and providing them the right to birth and the right to survival.’ As per this scheme, when the second daughter was born into a family, they would be entitled to receive Rs. 5000 per year, and the matured amount of 1,00,000 would be paid after the girl turned 18.
In January, 2013 The Indian Express reported Haryana’s new scheme to check social evils such as dowry, and encourage mass marriages known as the ‘Kanyadan’ scheme, which proposed an incentive of Rs. 11,000 to be handed over to each bride during mass marriages organized by Red Cross societies or other registered NGOs in Haryana. 18 year old Haryana domiciles were eligible for this incentive irrespective of caste, race, creed, religion or income.
Entering 2016, the trend continues
As of January 2015, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced plans to extend the scope of both ‘Kanyadan’ and ‘Laadli’ to balance the sex ratio in the state, both of which are monetary incentive-based programmes. In March 2015, he also launched the ‘Aapki Beti Humari Beti’ scheme on International Women’s Day at Panchkula to be implemented in both rural and urban Haryana. Under this new scheme, the first or second girl child born on or after January 22, 2015 in SC and below poverty line families will receive Rs. 21,000. Additionally, he launched the ‘Haryana Kanya Kosh’ for the welfare and development of the state’s women and girl child.
The onslaught of various schemes, whether they’re immediate relief plans or long-term pay-out programmes, are all aimed towards the upliftment of women in society in the form of a more balanced sex ratio, child and maternal nutrition, curbing dowry and child marriages, education-centric incentives, and so on.
And although these schemes do provide marginal effectiveness, we can’t help but quote Priya Nanda’s analysis report of the ABAD scheme, as she said, “Uprooting deep-seated discriminatory norms around girls and marriage requires more than just a simple cash transaction.”
Words: Rhea Almeida