Can a selfie campaign show Indians the true value of daughters?

Amrit Dhillon says a nationwide selfie campaign showing fathers and daughters could herald real action to tackle the nation's appalling gender ratio

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2015, 12:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2015, 12:05am

When is a selfie not just a selfie but a force for good that could save millions of female foetuses from being aborted in India? The very phrasing of the question, with the juxtaposition of the trivial and the deadly serious, sounds odd.

But some Indians are wondering whether a campaign by a villager in Haryana - the state with India's worst gender imbalance - that urges fathers to take selfies with their daughters, could improve women's lowly status. The villager, Sunil Jaglan, is educated but chose to return to his native place of Bibipur in Haryana to help villagers improve their lives. Due to female feticide, there are not many girls in Bibipur. When his daughter was born two years ago, the nurses refused to accept the sweets he distributed to express his joy. They told him he'd better start saving for her dowry.

"I was bursting with joy, but the people around me had the opposite reaction. It made me wonder: 'Is this the world my daughter is going to grow up in?'" he recalled. Jaglan has started a little social media revolution after posting a selfie with his daughter and WhatsApping it to his fellow villagers, urging them to take selfies, too. The best one will win a prize and trophy. The idea was to make Indians value daughters.

The media covered the story. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an avid selfie practitioner himself, has commended it as a way to change attitudes towards women. Then it snowballed, with thousands of fathers across India taking to Twitter with heart-warming selfies with their "princess", as one doting father said.

India will have a deficit of 24 million women by 2040, according to the UN Population Fund.

Has Jaglan hit on something; a clever way to get Indians to think differently, without the need for ponderous government schemes, portentous slogans or stringent laws? If so, it is overdue. Modi recently referred to 100 districts where the level of girls to boys is distressingly low. Decades of female feticide have led to Haryana's appalling ratio of 841 girls to every 1,000 boys.

If Indian couples do not stop aborting female foetuses, India will have a deficit of 24 million women by 2040, according to the UN Population Fund.

While no doubt charming, the truth is that the selfie campaign, on its own, will do little. The grim social reality of India has to change. A dowry must stop being an integral part of an arranged marriage if girls are to cease being burdens to already poor parents. Until this custom ends, girls will continue being poorly fed because, unlike their brothers, they are liabilities. Two-thirds of children admitted to hospital for acute malnutrition are girls.

It will take more than even a million selfies to alter these realities. It will take lots of government money and campaigns. But, at least the father-daughter selfie has caught the public imagination, without which any government campaign is doomed.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India