Jhunjhunu (Rajasthan): Posters of meritorious girls on roads, motley groups in perfectly ironed uniforms waiting near tea stalls for their buses, and a few undertaking the long walk to school – what might appear to be a scene from an artfully crafted documentary shoot endorsing girls’ education in India is actually a routine morning scene in Jhunjhunu.
Is this the result of the three-year-old Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP) scheme of the Narendra Modi government?
In March this year, to mark three years of the BBBP scheme, Modi rewarded Jhunjhunu as one of the best performing districts for ‘enabling girl-child education’.
Instead of providing data to support the claim of ‘improved girls’ education’, it was projected that Jhunjhunu has shown remarkable improvement in the child sex ratio (CSR). As per the 2011 Census, the CSR in Jhunjhunu was 837 girls per 1,000 boys, but after the implementation of the BBBP scheme, it improved to 903 and 949 in the years 2015-16 and 2017-18 respectively. The data is attributed to the Pregnancy and Child Tracking Software (PCTS) – an online system to track deliveries in the state.
Why PCTS data is not reliable
PCTS only captures the data of those deliveries where women have PCTS IDs. Women without a PCTS ID could still be traced, but only if they are covered in the anganwadi area. There is also a provision to collect delivery data from private delivery institutions, but in the absence of any effective system to deal with non-compliant institutions, private deliveries often remain excluded from the database.
A public health manager in Jaipur disclosed on the condition of anonymity, “Many a times, private hospitals deny us their delivery data. We complain to the health officers but it hardly makes a difference to these institutions. We also have the option of collecting the data from the women in our anganwadi area, too, but the anganwadis don’t cover every woman. For example, my ward has a population of 18,000 persons but the anganwadicovers only 2,500 persons. So, we have no means to capture the data from women outside anganwadi area if the hospitals refuse.”
In addition, the data captured by PCTS has its own flaws. The Wire previously reported that the gender of many children was mistaken in the PCTS and despite several complaints, failed to be rectified.
No special focus on girls’ education under BBBP
Apart from these issues, no special provisions have been made under the scheme to augment girls’ education in Jhunjhunu.
The budget allocation for each district chosen under the BBBP scheme is Rs 50 lakh per annum, of which 50% is targeted on just awareness and not facilities. However, it is not compulsory to utilise the entire budget.
“For education, the funds are mostly used to felicitate girl students and schools for their outstanding academic performance, to increase their participation in sports and to ensure menstrual hygiene in schools, among a few other things,” Trisha, a consultant working with the Women and Child Development Department in Jaipur, told The Wire.
The staff crunch is the biggest impediment to implementing the scheme, as there is no provision for logistics or appointment of personnel in the guidelines.
The decades-old girls’ education system in Jhunjhunu
The Rs 5 lakh annual budget for education in the district is a mere drop in the ocean. Then how come Jhunjhunu is still able to maintain its education system?
The answer lies in the fact that the Shekhawati region (Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu) is home for several big industrialists like Birla, Dalmiya, Piramal and Podar – who established educational institutions in the area to impart quality education to its people, with a special focus on girls.
During the 1960s, government schools in Jhunjhunu were only up to class VIII, beyond which students were required to travel to the district headquarters. Due to inadequate means of transport, girls often had to drop out of school. However, these institutes had reputable hostel facilities for girls and parents used to send their daughters to these hostels way back in the 1970s.
“Bagar was the education hub of Jhunjhunu since the 1970s. All the women working at good positions in government offices or other sectors have studied from our institute. The alumni regularly come to us to admit their children and grandchildren here,” Anshu Singh, principal of the Piramal Foundation in Bagar, told The Wire.
Saroj, a government teacher in Jhunjhunu who completed her education from the Piramal Institute in Bagar, Jhunjhunu said, “Even my mother, who retired two years ago as a government teacher, had studied from Bagar and that’s the reason why she sent me there… the atmosphere here for girls’ education was always encouraging.”
Decades later, these institutes are still the primary choice for people in the region. The reason for this is the high fees charged by private institutions and the poor quality of education in government schools.
“If you compare our fee structure with any private institute in Jhunjhunu, you would see the difference. The education here is also better than many private institutes that came up in last few years,” Satyendra Singh, principal of Podar Institute in Nawalgarh, told The Wire.
Government schools for girls, private schools for boys
Today, girls in government schools in Jhunjhunu have visibly outnumbered boys, who are sent to private schools for a better education.
Rekha, a class XI student in a government school in Udaipurwati tehsil of Jhunjhunu, said, “My parents want both their children to study but they could afford to send only one child to a private school. So, my brother goes there and I study in government school. Rest of the subjects here [government school] are still fine but the English taught in private schools is way better.”
The issues ailing the education system haven’t changed, but the Modi government has still managed to take credit for enhancing the girls’ education in Jhunjhunu. As per the 2011 Census, female literacy rates in Jhunjhunu stood at 60.95%.
“If the girls are studying in higher secondary, then can it be the result of a three-year-old scheme? The mothers were educated, that’s why they are sending their daughters to school. What has the Modi government done in this?” Maya, a local resident in Jhunjhunu, told The Wire.
Not enough money to keep the toilets clean
Girls drop out of school when they start menstruating as the school infrastructure can’t keep up with menstrual hygiene. Under the BBBP scheme, a special focus is placed on ensuring functional toilets for girls so that they wouldn’t have to miss school during their periods.
While awareness programmes to break menstruation taboos have been initiated, functional toilets are yet to come up. Even the funds allocated to government schools for the upkeep of toilets is woefully inadequate.
In the latest orders from the Rajasthan government, the composite fund sanctioned for government schools – of which 10% is set aside as ‘swachhta action plan’, is now provided as per the number of students enrolled in the schools. Earlier, all the government schools were granted an equal amount.
The money given under swachhta action plan is to be utilised for the regular use and maintenance of toilets, purchase of toilet cleaners, soap for washing hands, ensuring running water in the toilets and installing incinerators near girls toilets.
The principal in one government school at Udaipurwati tehsil in Jhunjhunu explained how paltry the swacchta action plan fund is for keeping the toilets clean. “We are expected to keep the toilets clean [on] a low annual budget as Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000. But how it can be done? The amount is not even sufficient to sustain [them] for a few months, forget the whole year.”
When asked why the BBBP failed to serve the practical needs of girls, Roli Singh, secretary in the Ministry of Women and Child Development in Rajasthan, told The Wire, “One can’t totally depend on government funds for things to happen. Schools have the option of School Development Monitoring Committees to ensure community partnership in education. They should put that to use. The nuances of this scheme are different, the focus is on awareness.”
All photographs by Shruti Jain.