Scribbling on a piece of paper, Sadiq paused for a while before explaining in detail the schemes introduced to tackle infant deaths in Attapadi. A few records suggested that there were more than 50 deaths reported in the past ten years. “Creating sensationalised news has become top priority today. Reports in the media have been grossly misrepresented. Government-sponsored health care programmes have led to immense improvement in tribal health. And, the number of deaths owing to undernourishment has seen a staggering drop over the years,” said Sadiq as he stacked papers into neat piles.
A few years ago, a study conducted by National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad declared that 48 per cent of tribal women in Attapadi suffered massive malnutrition thereby leading to chronic energy deficiency. The prevalence of underweight and stunted growth amongst toddlers was significantly higher in these parts than the rest of the country. However, the authorities maintained that commencement of community kitchens and supply of rations at subsidised rates have brought about a drastic change in the overall health and well-being of tribal communities. “They are provided 35kg of rice for Rs 2 per kg. After completing their graduate-level studies, they are even offered jobs based on reservations apart from sanctioning 3.5 lakh for constructing houses in their respective hamlets,” said Sharaf.
According to him, girls who reside in the hostels receive nutritious meals thrice a day. After graduating from high school, these girls return home to empty kitchens where every meal is a struggle. They are overworked and under fed. Gradually, they succumb to malnourishment. An unplanned pregnancy in such conditions could only have a devastating effect on the mother and child.
“Tribal cultures maintain an attitude of open-mindedness. It is customary for them to look for potential partners after a few festivals. Most of the houses do not have toilets and kids often find reasons to step out at night. This leads to illicit relationships and they end up being pregnant within the first year of being out of school. They refuse to go for regular check-ups and are quite reluctant to go to hospitals because they don’t believe in Western medicine. As a result, their health deteriorates,” explained Sharaf who further added that some of the women consume alcohol in copious amounts during their pregnancy which adversely affects prenatal development. Recalling one such incident that occurred a while ago, he narrated the story of a heavily drunk mother passing out while breastfeeding her new born-baby which unfortunately led to the infant dying of suffocation.
We asked them if they ever planned to introduce sex education in their schools or conduct awareness programmes to educate the community. Apparently, they propose to include a few initiatives this year. “But these things take time. Besides, convincing tribesmen to attend these events is a mammoth task in itself,” he said.
Contrary to authorities’ claims, many chief medical officers have come on record to state that infant deaths could be attributed to unemployment and extreme poverty. Moreover, with the food habits of tribes altering every decade, their bodies are unaccustomed to consuming rice and daal. With degrading natural resources, malnutrition has slowly crept in and plagued the tribal population today.
Traditionally, they ate green leafy vegetables, raagi and other forms of millet which were rich in nutritional value. They grew their own food but due to diminishing farming practices they have forfeited all control over what they eat. Having lost all the skills that their ancestors had painstakingly developed over the years, they have now become increasingly dependent on an improficient system spearheaded by slipshod government policies.
“Everyone relies on ration shops. They do not want to put in any effort to farm anymore. If the government hadn’t turned a blind eye towards their ancestral practices, they wouldn’t be in this situation right now. In order to encourage tribes to farm, the department provided them with facilities to bring back their age-old practice of farming. Since, they sensed an indifferent attitude within the tribe, they then decided to distribute seeds. Tractors were given to families to ensure that they could plough their own lands without any hassle. And, yet they refused to farm. Basically, what we are dealing with is nothing but human nature where more isn’t enough and less is frowned upon. What’s worse is that these programmes cannot be pulled back since it’ll create a political issue,” said Sadiq.
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502