‘Beti Bachao, Selfie Banao’: Modi finally takes a step in the right direction

Published: July 1, 2015

Mr Modi has suggested that Indians should take selfies.

It’s hard to take Narendra Modi seriously. As a member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh political party) and a controversial one at that, his election to the post of the 15th Prime Minister of India is more likely to make most people raise their brows in amazement. But every tub can stand on its own bottom even if it wobbles at times, and Mr Modi proves he too has some stable ideas.

Mr Modi has suggested that Indians should take selfies. Not just random selfies but selfies of themselves with their daughters and post these pictures onto any social media platform with a relevant caption. He has promised to repost the best of these selfies on Twitter.

The reason?

To help stop female infanticide in India.

Selfies have been popular for a while. An American photographer produced a daguerreotype of himself in 1839, which was also the first photograph ever taken with a person as a subject. More recently, selfies on social media have become increasingly popular. In fact in 2011, when a photographer’s camera was stolen in the wild by an apelike primate called a crested black macaque was rediscovered, it was found to contain hundreds of selfies (of the photographer), and right at the very end, one of the primate itself. Grinning. Interestingly, Barack Obama also made headlines when he was spotted taking selfies with the Danish Prime Minister and David Cameron. All of them smiling widely.

The term ‘selfie’ itself was suggested in 2005, and by 2012 Time Magazine included it in a list of top ten buzzwords of the year. The following year the Oxford English Dictionary acknowledged the existence of the word by including it in its online version.

But this is not about selfies. That short background was given to just explain how things have the capacity to catch on and become big from a humble start. And if they solve a few problems along the way then it’s even better.

Mr Modi’s suggestion regarding selfies is not his own. Sunil Jangat, the head of the Panchayat, of one of Haryana’s villages has been trying to promote these selfies for a while. The Indian Prime Minister decided to capitalise on Jangat’s idea and take it a step forward. It is an idea worth pushing.

Female infanticide, the deliberate killing of a female baby because a male child is considered to be worth keeping and a female is not, is an old crime and is not restricted to India or to this time. It was common in Arabia, and was common and still occurs in China. In Delphi, in Greece at one time, out of 6,000 families, only 1% had more than one daughter. Islam forbade this practice, and the Quran mentions the terrible question the female infant will ask when she is resurrected on the Day of Judgement: Why was I killed?

Today, baby girls are still killed at birth in Taiwan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Singapore, the Caucasus, some sub-Saharan countries, and among some tribes in Brazil. The ways in which these practices are carried out does not bear reading and I cannot bring myself to write about them here, except to mention that one such method requires to feed poison to the baby girl, while breast feeding her for the first time. If this makes you cry, I have made my point.

In India, Sunil Jangat’s province of Haryana has the highest rate of female infanticide in the country. In 2012, Jangat and his sister conducted a survey in which they discovered that from March to May that year alone, 15 girls were born as opposed to 25 boys. There was clearly something wrong, particularly when the overall ratios were analysed as the statistics in 2012 read, 700 girls to a 1000 boys.

Jangat’s sister created a group of educated women in their village, Bibipur, and trained them. Jangat included women speakers at the panchayat, and women have since participated in all the major panchayats across Haryana. He staged a play during which the message against female infanticide was put across. They tried to discover why women were not considered important in an agricultural society. The elderly women of Haryana said it was more than a question of carrying the name forward; it was also because in a society such as theirs, girls cannot provide for themselves. And once they marry, they go away.

By adding his voice to the effort in such a constructive way, Mr Modi has shown that he has taken note of the magnitude of the problem faced by his country and is willing to bring a change. A selfie, a hundred or a thousand selfies may seem like a small effort but who has not seen the selfie taken by Ellen DeGeneres during the 2014 Oscars, the one that contained twelve Oscar celebrities, which eventually became the most retweeted image ever with 779,295 tweets in half an hour?

Especially because everyone carries a powerful medium like the cell phone in their pocket these days, it’s become much easier to push such campaigns.

If selfies of people with their daughters become the ‘in thing’, and some of them are even retweeted by the prime minister, the images will hopefully not fall on deaf ears. So well done, Mr Modi. Few people may agree with your sartorial sense but you’ve clearly got a point this time.


Rabia Ahmed

The author is a freelance writer and translator.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.