Ab Beti ko Scams se Bachao!

Lip service feminism, commodity feminism, Imtiaz Ali feminism – call it what you will, but what’s certain is, in the current scenario, it’s paying well! A scam we uncovered recently in hinterland U.P., which fools people under the banner of the popular, government flagship programme Beti Bachao, is one such instance.

The Pradhan Mantri Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme (BBBP), a pet project of the Modi government, was launched in 2015, with the aim to address the twin issues of pre-birth gender-biased sex discrimination manifesting itself in the form of a declining child sex ratio, as well as post-birth discrimination against girls in the form of gross neglect in their nutritional, health and educational needs. The primary focus of the scheme is geared towards challenging deep-rooted misogynistic mindsets and patriarchal norms by strengthening local bodies and communities to act as catalysts of social change and increasing awareness through an aggressive mass media campaign. However, in U.P.’s Mahoba district, the BBBP has taken on a new challenge with fraudsters using it to swindle people out of their hard-earned money.

A few weeks ago, Mahoba was abuzz with chatter about the BBBP. The word on the street was that every girl must fill a simple form – said to be released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD Ministry) – to avail a handsome cash prize that came sanctioned by the central government. Anju decided to do the needful, and happily explained the entire process to us when we met her. She had procured the form from a local stationery shop for five rupees, she said, which had to be filled in with all her details and also affixed with two photographs each of herself and her parents. All of this had cost her 210 rupees already, but she was all smiles in hopes of her prize money being sanctioned soon. 

Anju isn’t alone. Parents and relatives across the district have been rushing in droves to fill the forms, young girls of their families in tow. They are willingly paying anything from 100 to 250 rupees for procuring and submitting the form. When asked what they know about how the scheme exactly works, the responses are varied and many. While some believe that every girl is simply going to be given a cash prize of two lakh rupees by the government “very soon”, others are still waiting on some duplicitous receipts to come so they can take their applications forward. This too is expected to happen “immediately”.

Mohammad Rafeeq, who has filled and submitted three forms so far, all of them allegedly aligned with the BBBP, acquainted us with the state of affairs, as he understands them, “What we were told is that every girl/woman between the ages of 8 and 32 is going to receive a sum of two lakh rupees from the government under the BBBP. Naturally, we filled the forms and completed all the formalities at once.  But so far, we have got nothing.” Another Mahoba resident, Mangal, has the same story. “We took two tickets for the two girls in our household. This alone cost us 200 rupees. When we went to submit the forms, they even gave us a receipt, but we are yet to see the money.  So far, we have spent 500 rupees already. It would be good to know when we can go and get the money now.”

The WCD Ministry has been the recipient of thousands of such fake forms filled by naïve girls and their families, all of whom have been duped by this scam. In a flooding of their offices, the ministry is said to have received nearly 3 million fake application forms over the last year, from across the country – besides U.P, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi have all been home to BBBP cons.

In Mahoba, with a few weeks gone past and the illusive cash prize nowhere in sight, there are now those who are realizing what happened. Mohammad Rafeeq says with a sad smile, “Now we know that neither is this information available anywhere on the internet nor has it been published in the papers or on TV. We don’t know whether it was a baseless rumour or a devious hoax, but we filled and submitted the forms. Not just us, the entire village has done it!” Santosh, on the other hand, clearly spells it out – calling it all an elaborate hoax which someone came up with, printed credible-looking forms, and ran away with everyone’s money.

Help isn’t likely for Rafeeq or Santosh or Anju, or anyone else coaxed out of the hundreds. When we inquired at the local office of the state welfare department, no one seemed to have any knowledge about these events; the local MLA’s office too was clueless. The WCD Ministry however recently put up a notification on its website warning people of such scams being perpetuated in the name of the BBBP. Reiterating the fact that the BBBP is not a direct benefit transfer scheme and has no such component of granting individual cash incentives, the notification makes it clear that any such fake forms received in the future would be “disposed of summarily”.

Much like the cash that once belonged to the families in Mahoba, blessed with daughters.

This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared on Firstpost.