CHILDREN OF BIBA VILLAGE IN MELGHAT:-
I want to share one of the most enriching experiences of my life with all of you. I was at melghat last week. If you have 10 minutes to spare. Please do listen.
Melghat is a tribal belt at the border of Maharashtra and MP…a dense forested area of 300 villages with breath-taking natural beauty…a little slice of heaven…untouched and nascent. Nearest city of Amravati is at 6 hour drive. It also has a tiger reserve and abounds in the rarest species of birds. There is no electricity (in spite of electric poles in each village),no roads, no means of transport (except a recently started on/off once a day ST bus…mostly stopped in monsoons…the other means is our time-tested bullock cart!). The only water source is a tube well for each village which often runs dry during summers. Nearest source of health care - a primary health centre at 4 hr walk. No means of communication with the outside world. Not a single PCO within 4 hrs walk of any village. The only sanitation facility is the big jungle. This place is almost inaccessible during monsoons due to heavy rainfall, rivers overflow blocking all routes of entry n exit from villages resulting in high mortality during monsoons. It’s an absolutely isolated place and hence has a different dynamics and an evolution of its own.
A tribe called ‘korku’ is the most prevalent tribe there. Korkus are descendents of migrant people from bihar brought during british regime for labour and were exploited and suppressed.
It has been assessed that this tribe is almost 300 yrs behind the present world. These people have been caught between inefficient farming which they have been forced to take up because their native occupation hunting has been banned. The financial, social and cultural set up is surviving on century old practices.
In the 1990′s the media flashed reports that the highest mortality of children under age of 5 yrs in Maharashtra occurred in Melghat.An NGO called Melghat Mitra Mandal (pune) in 1997 decided it was too much to be accepted. Hence a vow was taken to prevent even a single child death during monsoons (Dhadak Mohim).Volunteers and medico’s were pooled in to make 10 day trips in batches to provide health education and early diagnosis and treatment of life threatening diseases in children in 9 villages.
I was a volunteer this time in 2007 and visited 6 of them as a doctor & teacher.
Will like to share my experience with u all.
This was my 1st field experience of this sort… and i was really scared! The requirement to stay out of contact with the outside world(no network), with no electricity in this day and age…for a person like me who had never seen a village…I was completely consumed by fright. But strangely, the 1st glimpse of one of its villages at night-time… quiet, serene, dark, cold replaced my fear with awe & excitement. After that, it was more of ‘let it on’.
The 1st day was just spent in adjusting…the technicalities of bathing in a river, using the jungle as the sulabh shauchalaya, lifting buckets of water to and fro from the tube well to our base camp, learning to find comfort in the company of flies and mosquitoes in the dark nights and struggling to win over the fear of phantoms lurking around in the darkness ready to pounce on me anytime. The only bulb being the moon, my greatest fear was stepping on a snake at night. To me glow worms looked like 2 eyes of a leopard running around our base camp.
My discomfort lessened as the days passed and a sense of purpose descended on us. After a point you don’t really remember the discomforts…all you remember is why you have come there. The inconveniences gradually settled in the background of the canvas we were attempting to paint. The main sketch was all that consumed us…or rather we consciously insured the right order of priorities.
Everyday we visited our respective villages on foot (some 3 km away, some 6km, some 7 km)… of a series of huts made of mud and painted with gobar, roofed by thatch, housing some 10 persons each. They happened to be extremely shy and docile set of people; fascinated by us…my sandals fascinated the girls! As u moved around a train of kids followed you everywhere like a tail shouting ‘namaste’, ‘ok’…and few other words they picked up from foreigners like us. We went around trying to bond with each family, identifying the malnourished kids… giving them nutritional supplements like chikki and sattu(a nutritional diet), treating sick kids and adults, spending time with pregnant females… getting them to talk, introducing new concepts of simple health care like proper bathing and tooth brushing (they don’t feel kids need to brush their teeth & adults use tobacco/raakh as tooth paste), addressing their harmful practices(like giving damma: applying burning iron rods on body for curing disease…I saw damma on a 4 day old baby, they don’t consume cow’s milk as they feel it’s for the calf, they don’t consume soyabean-the richest pulse protein in spite of producing it in their fields),impressing upon them the need for education. We took one gram sabha (village meet) for one village too covering topics like environmental sanitation, personal hygiene, building of compost pit etc.
Language was never a problem as they spoke hindi. But still, bonding didn’t come easy. May be because we came from a different culture & so permeating their minds n hearts in one week was never going be simple.
Many people there saw us with suspicion and disrespect because they saw us as government officers who had come to exploit them. The govt functionaries have disappointed them so much and so often that now they don’t trust anyone who has come to help them. So our job got tougher because of the mental resistance. They found it simply unimaginable that someone has come for them from so far, voluntarily after spending so much time, money & energy. And some who did realize this, showed lot of love and affection.
It was heart-rending to hear that a single snake bite victim had to be carried for 3 hrs on a bullock cart to reach the closest doctor. Basic health care is so far away that people don’t even attempt to reach it. No one I met knew the word ‘Mumbai’ or had vaguely heard the word ‘Maharashtra’. Most (except men) hadn’t stepped outside the confines of the village. Kids walked for hours to reach their pathshala…because the ones in their own village were closed. The major bane of that place is that most government people whether teachers, police, doctors etc have come on sort of punishment postings. So the only people who can change things there are insincere. Exceptions apart, teachers are incompetent, uninspiring and highly irregular. Most of the time they are out on some meeting or training and if they are not out on that, they simply remain absent. The quality of education is appalling. Students can chant 1 to 10 like a parrot but can’t answer when a random letter like 6 is shown to them. They have no understanding because of the confusion between so many languages. They understand korku, outside houses hindi is spoken and education is in marathi. The anganwadi worker is indifferent. The local dai (one in each village) is hardly efficient. It was amusing to hear that the delivery kits provided by government to each dai, many a times get used for other things. Husbands take out the blade for shaving and soap gets used for bathing! As a result when deliveries happen, dais have no kits left & they get conducted in the archaic way.
We realized certain things during our interactions:
1) In our attempt to develop their minds and conditions, we don’t have to uproot their culture.
2) We have to enter as insiders, not as aliens.
3) We have to be suggestional, not instructional.
4) We should stay alert of any tendency to feel superior to them.
5) We have to stay very patient. Expecting reasoning, understanding and cooperation will only cause frustration.
6) Whatever we think to be a problem of that place…only when they too think it is a ‘problem’ & needs to be changed… that it will really be changed.
7) Solutions for their problems should be found from within them, using the local resources.
8) Our attempts at development there shouldn’t make them dependent on us. We have to attempt to make them more self-reliant in their own environment. So as a principle, we didn’t give them any articles or commodities like food/clothes/money.
Is there any scope of work for non-medicos in a place like melghat? Yes. Ample.
It was heartening to see that every batch consisted of non-medicos, sometimes more than medicos…lawyers, contracters, reporters, science students, retired people. We realized that taking health care to such places is only one part of the huge spectrum of the need. Engineers, teachers…so much can be done if these chip in with their expertise.
While working there, many times a thought came…what’s the use, things are not going to change…
I spoke to many volunteers who have been working there for last 10 yrs & they say that the fact remains that THINGS HAVE CHANGED. People who didn’t even have a concept that a disease needs treatment, today come & demand medicines when we roam the villages. People have started educating their children, so their receptivity to new ideas & new teachings is increasing. Child Mortality has reduced. People have started accepting that the custom of damma is useless & harmful, but are continuing it because of lack of other medical options. A lot needs to be improved, but a lot has improved too.
People like us, who stay there for just 7 days aren’t be able to gauge the difference we make, because its so small and invisible. We just sow the seeds. It takes years for the fruits to be seen. We are a part of a large plan. It’s a huge relay race. Such small batches over 10 yrs have made the difference & will continue to make the difference. We may be just one link but still EACH LINK IS IMPORTANT. It is something similar to that story I had read which said that a tree doesn’t fall by the final blow only. It falls due to the cumulative effect of multiple blows by the axe. Each blow contributes. We are just one blow. That’s what we told ourselves.
Till now I had heard & read about the need in such areas. Now, I have seen it & felt it first hand. & I can tell you, there is a difference.
In that place, I felt such utter shock at the line of disparity I was standing at. Being city bred, I felt as if I had been dulled to a lot of things happening outside my city. Our concerns are different, our views slightly myopic. I don’t believe people in my city don’t care. Just that the exposure to things & issues outside the city is less because there are too many local issues hogging limelight here.
But, we gotta bridge the gap. It’s too wide. Its unfair. Got to set our priorities right.
How fair is it to get funds to make Mumbai into Shanghai, when there exist places in the same state which still don’t have a light bulb??
I’m not against progress, but I’m more for well-distributed progress. It’s like a body, required blood supply needs to go to all organs or else some organs die…& if some organs die, the rest of body can’t stay healthy either.
Let’s stop living in a vacuum, comfortable in our own sweet worlds.
Let’s show we care. It’s our own country; we aren’t living in someone else’s land. We are the only ones who are ever gonna be there to do something.
Let’s for once, stop commenting on the system and start doing something about it.
- TARU JINDAL