There’s a fantastic scene in Peepli Live, a highly acclaimed movie that satirises India's broadcast media and our inept governance.
In it, two high-ranking government officials are discussing how they can dissuade a wretchedly poor, debt-ridden farmer who has gained national attention because he has declared he'll commit suicide so that his family can become beneficiaries of a government handout to farmers who kill themselves.
The officials are discussing seemingly grandiose government schemes that have been launched to help farmers to put an end to the media circus prompted by the farmer's suicide threat. However, they can’t identify a mechanism for helping him because some schemes can only be given to dead farmers, others to those who can ‘prove’ they are crushed by debt, and so on. The scene underscores all that’s wrong with many of our government schemes, and validated the scepticism many of us have towards all these poorly conceived, wasteful strategies.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But in a strange way, a conversation I had last week with our family driver came as a pleasant revelation. A resident of a small village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Dhananjay works with us in Delhi, but his family—his parents, wife and his four-old-year-old son—still live in the village. Last week, he found out he’d been blessed with another baby boy. When I congratulated him, though, he told me how upset he was that he hadn't had a girl.
Before I could rejoice in the fact that he was keen to have a baby daughter, he proceeded to tell me he wanted a girl so he could get the insurance cover the government had introduced for female children in its ‘Dhan Lakshmi’ scheme. This may not sound like a very noble motivation for wanting a girl, and it’s easy to judge Dhananjay's motivations. But the end result is precisely what the government intended in a country where too many potential parents choose to abort females. After all, there’s little better than some ‘positive’ incentives to start to change social mindsets.