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06/14/2013

Indian village plants 111 trees, starts funds for girl babies to stop female feticide

Screen shot 2013-06-14 at 7.47.49 AM
(Screen grab from Piplantri's website.)

India, and Indian women especially, could use more leaders like Shyam Sundar Paliwal.

Paliwal is a former sarpanch, or village elder, in Piplantri, a village of 6,000 in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.

For several years, in an effort to discourage female feticide and bolster the village's green cover, locals plant 111 trees every time a girl is born. Over the past six years alone, according to the The Hindu newspaper, people have planted more than 250,000 neem, sheesham and mango trees.

The village has introduced an interesting effort to encourage families to stop having gender-selective abortions.

For the past four decades, since ultrasound machines were introduced in India, parents desperate for a son to carry on their lineage have had technology on their side, turning a cultural preference into a ruthlessly efficient girl-killing system. If their fetus is female, some mothers opt for an abortion rather than carry to full term.

In the village of Jhajjar, I wrote in 2011 about how just 16 girls had been admitted to school over the prior year, compared to 43 boys.

Piplantri is the kind of good-news story that's sure to draw more attention, at a time when many journalists are covering the many stories of violence against women in India.

The village also makes it more lucrative for families to keep girl children. They collect about $500 from village locals and $250 from the girls' father. The $750 is invested into a fixed deposit for the girl, maturing after 20 years.

 “We make these parents sign an affidavit promising that they would not marry her off before the legal age, send her to school regularly and take care of the trees planted in her name,” Paliwal told the Hindu.

Piplantri is the kind of place to which foreign documentary makers flock.

The village also has a studio-recorded anthem and a website, has completely banned alcohol, open grazing of animals and cutting of trees. Villagers say there have not been any criminal cases here for the last eight years, The Hindu reported.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

 

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