By Vishnu Khedkar and Arti Manchanda Grover
As per census 2011, the gender ratio in Maharashtra is 929 females in 1,000 males, which is below the national average of 940/1,000. Birth of a girl child is not as joyous an occasion for families as it is for the birth of a boy. S M Sehgal Foundation has been working on projects in water management and agriculture in district Aurangabad, and the newest initiative is My Daughter My Tree, which began with the objective to counter a prevalent mindset of preferring a boy over a girl and combining the effort with protecting the environment.
The initiative felicitates parents of girls under the age of two years by providing them with a coconut tree along with a tree guard. The tree is dedicated in the name of the girl child to celebrate her birth and also to increase the green cover. Coconut has immense spiritual value in this culture and is referred to as a tree of life or kalpavriksha. It is said that whoever plants it ensures food, drink, utensils, and clothing. From the fruit to the husk, the coconut tree has multiple uses, and each part is put to use.
The initiative was rolled out in about ten villages in Aurangabad with the aim to have a multiplier effect as it increases the green cover and builds a realization of gender equity. The families who have planted the trees shared that they see their daughters in the tree and wish for its long life.
In order to promote local participation and prepare community leaders, S M Sehgal Foundation organizes Women Leadership Schools (WLS) in several villages of district Aurangabad. According to Amol, the foundation coordinator, “Community engagement was done by bringing all stakeholders together, including the panchayat, anganwadi center, and WLS members. Together they identified the families having a girl child and decided where the plantation should take place.” Amol recalls how initially some people approached him, saying, “Why only girls? You should include boys too, as girls will go to another house one day, so why do we keep a tree in their name?” But gradually this sentiment changed among the community, and they came forward to have trees planted in their household for girls.
In Wawna village, sixteen coconut trees were planted in one place, making it a common forest area for the village. The felicitation ceremonies held so far have also recognized police officers, nurses, and sarpanches, especially females, for their contributions, along with providing plants to families having a girl child. With the positive response from the community, the team plans to continue with the initiative in other villages as well.
Varsha Datrey Jadhav from village Wawna shared that the initiative holds a great message to value and celebrate the girl child, in that a girl will take on multiple roles in her lifetime and touch many lives. Vishnu Khedkar, program lead, Water Management, at Sehgal Foundation, shares that the initiative has kick-started a healthy dialogue about promoting girl children and giving them the opportunities that can ensure their brighter future.
(Vishnu is program lead, Water Management in Aurangabad and Arti M. Grover is senior program lead, Outreach for Development at S M Sehgal Foundation, Inputs from Amol Bhilange, project associate, Aurangabad)