Sunil Jaglan vividly recalls the events of 24 January, 2012. It was a frosty night, with rain hanging heavy in the icy January air. Around midnight, his wife gave birth to their first child, a girl. When Jaglan started distributing sweets, the nurses at the hospital refused. "They said that they would have happily taken them had my wife given birth to a son," he says. The events of that fateful night shook Jaglan immensely. He had been Sarpanch of Haryana's Bibipur village for two years and realised that little had changed in his village's outlook towards a girl child. Last month, Jaglan launched the "selfie with daughter campaign", asking parents from all across the country to send in selfies clicked with their daughters. "This competition was inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We see him clicking selfies on all his foreign visits. I felt there was no better way to spread the message of the importance of a girl child," says Jaglan. Much to Jaglan's astonishment, his selfie initiative found mention in Modi's Mann Ki Baat radio address on Sunday. "I had no idea that he knew about the campaign. But it feels good to be praised," says Jaglan, the hint of pride unmistakable in his voice. Such has been his rise to sudden prominence that his phone cannot stop ringing. In the half hour that I sit with him, he takes his iPhone out several times, only to politely decline requests for an interview. "I have too many people to meet today. An interaction would be difficult," he responds to one such caller. He is in Delhi to put in a request to meet Modi. Dressed in pale green striped T-shirt and blue jeans, his hair neatly parted in the middle, Jaglan says that his efforts have helped resurrect Bibipur's skewed sex ratio in the last few years.
In patriarchal rural Haryana, Jaglan chose to work with women. In June 2012, he convened a meeting of the Mahila Gram Sabha to put forth his message. "It is the women who give birth, and they have to be made to understand that female feticide is a gruesome crime," he says. His efforts seem to have delivered laudable results. In 2012, 37 girls and 59 boys were born in Bibipur. The following year - for the first time in the village - the number of girls born was far greater than that of boys. Around the same time, the 33-year-old also launched the "Dadi Agar Chahegi toh Poti Zaroor Ayegi" initiative, where grandmothers were educated about what makes a girl child so special. "We have to change archaic mindsets, and that starts with the elderly," says Jaglan. Also, Mother's Day - a concept almost alien to rural India - is now celebrated joyously in Bibipur every year. However, the adulation has come with its share of controversy. In 2013, Jaglan was suspended for alleged financial irregularities in the functioning of the Panchayat, a decision that was later stayed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Jaglan says that this was a price he paid for his popularity. "I helped Muslim families move into houses that were earlier wrongfully denied to them. I helped reclaim 3.5 acres of land that was illegally occupied. I did nothing wrong. Maybe they felt I was becoming too powerful." In fact, almost 200 women staged a protest after he was suspended. With his goodwill and unflinching dedication to Bibipur, Jaglan is an overwhelming favourite to retain his post when the Panchayat elections are held later this year.