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Selfie Dads Defending Daughters

Abhishek Dhulia

Oct. 6, 2015

The word "selfie" might make you think of celebrities on social media, or tourists wielding smartphones at the end of a long stick. But on The Focus tonight, we'll meet the man from a village in northern India who's using them to bring about important social change.

He's taking aim at India's gender gap and discrimination against girls. That's one of the areas world leaders have flagged as a priority to tackle worldwide. They've made it a plank of their sustainable development goals for the next 15 years.

The parents and daughters selfie campaign started in a village in the northern state of Haryana. Bibipur Village Head Sunil Jaglan had the idea.

Jaglan asked parents to take selfies with their daughter. He posted the message on Facebook in June and received more than 2,000 selfies in just 2 weeks.

Jaglan says the parents' smiles in the photos show just how much they love their daughters, and how precious their daughters are to them.

People in rural India often prefer sons over daughters, because people believe only men can carry the family lineage. An Indian villager explains that a daughter leaves the household after getting married, but a son inherits the house. That's why people prefer sons.

Indian marriage traditions in rural areas dictate that a bride's parents should pay a dowry to the husband's family. The custom is illegal, but still a common practice. Some couples expecting a girl choose an abortion instead.

Jaglan started the campaign to raise awareness about discrimination against girls deep-rooted in many rural areas. He recalls the birth of his own daughter, and the cold reaction of hospital staff at what should have been a moment of joy.

Jaglan says no one should be discriminated against because of their sex. He says all females should have the same rights as males.

Jaglan's message even caught the eye of Prime Minister Nahendra Modi. Modi's support for the campaign was reported by media. Closing the status gap between men and women is one of Modi's signature policies. He called on Indians to join the selfie campaign.

Emboldened, Jaglan has been visiting villages and holding photo sessions to spread his message.

He approaches one community, where he asks everyone who sincerely loves their daughters to raise their hands. A number of hands go up. Many parents in this low-income community have never had the chance to be photographed with their daughters before. Jaglan does it for them in an instant with his smart phone. One father says that after seeing the photo, he realized just how beautiful his daughter is. He says he will be there for her.

Jaglan says that he hopes to create an environment which will advance women's rights through his campaign. He says he will appeal to the entire nation to participate in the campaign to eliminate discrimination against women.


NHK World's Abhishek Dhulia joins Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu from New Delhi.

Beppu: Abhishek, we know that India is enjoying a very strong economic boom, and I assume that this will bring a change in values in society, but I understand that it depends which part of India you are talking about.

Abhishek: In urban areas, yes. That's where the benefits of the booming economy are most obvious, and there's more diversity of ideas. But out in the rural areas, it's a different story. People there are more likely to follow traditional beliefs and customs. Many don't believe in sending girls to school, and the lack of education fuels a vicious cycle. India's population statistics show the ratio of girls to boys is changing. In 1951, there were 983 girls for every 1,000 boys aged 6 or younger. By 2011, the figure was 914. The difference is even starker in rural areas like Haryana state, where Jaglan lives. There are only 834 girls for every 1,000 boys. The irony is that some experts attribute the changes to advances in medical technology, which have made it easier to get abortions. The Indian government considers this a serious problem. The authorities have even banned doctors from telling parents if they're having a boy or girl.

Beppu: On the other hand, the advancements in technology are also helping people like Jaglan push for change. How did he come up with this idea to use selfies?

Abhishek: He was inspired by a selfie he took with his daughter. He says the picture captured the happiness in his heart, so he began asking people to take selfies and send them to him. The idea was to break the stigma of having a daughter. He says when he launched the campaign, many people in rural areas were hesitant to have their photo taken with their daughters, and some didn't know even what a selfie was. But the idea was catchy, and it's having an effect.

Shibuya: We saw Prime Minister Nahendra Modi taking an interest in the campaign. What's the Indian government doing to tackle gender inequality?

Abhishek: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vocal about the issue. He's condemned the practice of aborting girls based on sex, and he's been using tough language to urge people to change their values. He even said people can't claim to live in the 21st century if they are clinging to an 18th century mindset. It's not going to be an easy thing to change. As long as parents look at their children as economic interests, there will be a preference for boys. But there are promising signs, including this small initiative from a village in northern India that struck a nerve nationwide -- and even got the prime minister's attention.