A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting reportage on the human condition
Rs 15 N o v e mb e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2 - Vo l u me 4 Is s u e 1 1

Despite a Supreme Court order insisting that toilets be provided in all government schools, lack of clean water and sanitation are problems plaguing several schools in India. Recently, the poor performance of Chennai schools in sanitation ratings produced by the Central Board for Secondary Education highlighted the harsh realities on the ground, a sobering thought considering that it is children (especially girls), their health and upbringing that is directly affected

The sidewall of a government school in Koyembedu, Chennai, is a convenient point for students to urinate.

Photos: Catherine Gilon

The overpowering stench of apathy

unachievable, they are not just given due importance.” However, not every story is as grim. Padma K.S., a teacher in Chennai Public School, is glad to say there are about 15 toilets on each floor. The toilets are cleaned every two hours by a class attender. This writer checked randomly with students there and found they were happy with the condition of the restrooms. Private schools in Chennai seem to have a slightly better sanitation environment than government schools, perhaps because the control is usually wielded by a single unit. While the Chennai Corporation has successfully initiated the distribution of free sanitary napkins for girl students, backed by an awareness class conducted by a doctor on proper usage and disposal, many in academia feel that availability and maintenance of school toilets should also be given prime importance. Lack of toilets, they say, could lead to the spread of diseases and even children dropping out. Be it spread of contagious diseases such as swine flu, or urinary tract infection because of not urinating


Meet the first woman graduate from the Toto tribe



catheRine GiLon, Chennai

ary, a Class 11 student in a well-known Anglo-Indian school, says most students in the school do not use the toilets unless it’s absolutely necessary because they are so badly kept. “The worst part is sometimes there is no water and we need to fill a bucket from a common tank and carry it to the restroom to use; it is so embarrassing,” she says. Mary’s brother Raj, a Class 8 student in a matriculation school in St Thomas Mount, says he has never used the toilet in his school because of unbearable stench, “I’d rather hold on till I reach home but most boys just relieve themselves in the street.” Two years ago, Bhavani, parent of ten-year-old Krithika, had just returned from the United States with her family, “I wanted her to go to the best school in Chennai, I chose a good result-producing school but after just a day in there, my daughter refused to go. It was shocking for me to know it was because the toilets had no doors (for students) till Class 3. We then moved her to another school. This time, I checked the restrooms first.” As a teacher said, “Neat toilets are not

In many schools in Indian cities, there are no clean washbasins where children can wash their hands. Adopting hygienic measures helps curtail the spread of communicable diseases.
for long hours, improper sanitation has led to schools becoming breeding grounds of diseases in the city. According to the principal of a higher secondary school for girls, the toilet-student ratio is so poor in most schools that many children find it difficult to go to a toilet during a break. “Even the 20 toilets (for 2500 children) we have are run by the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and finding scavengers to clean them is a challenge, what with napkins clogging the toilets regularly,” he says. With most of the children coming from low-income groups, they are unlikely to have had experience going to toilets. Adds the principal: “Classes to educate students on toilet usage should be encouraged. Toilets will be constructed as per the court ruling, it is their maintenance that will be an issue. Using washable tiles and maintenance checks by the sanitary department are musts.” Vijaya, a government school teacher, refers to another ugly problem. “Though our toilets are maintained, some of the Class 12 children relieve themselves against

Photos: CRY

our school walls. When they are told to use the toilets, they simply refuse to comply. With no stringent rules in place against public urination, these children reflect the society at large – a callous urge to litter our streets.” A recent CRY (Child Rights and You) survey revealed that inadequately maintained rest rooms was a cause for dropouts in schools. Says P. Krishnamoorthy, assistant general manager, CRY, “Lack of functional toilets is also one of the contributory factors for pushing girl children out of the school system. Inability to attend to the call of nature for the entire school hours has led to dropouts, with adolescent girls bearing the brunt.” Citing few case studies, he adds, “Non-maintenance of toilets in the Chennai School in Ganeshapuram, unhygienic conditions of toilets in the Government Adi Dravidar Welfare Boys Higher Secondary School on Braidan Road, Kannigapuram, and inadequate water facility in the Municipal Higher Secondary School in Jamin Pallavaram have created health hazards for adolescent girls and formed the basis of dropouts.” Krishnamoorthy points to the need for separate toilets for girls and boys. “In our survey, more than 15 per cent of the respondents in Chennai said that schools near their locality did not have separate toilets for girls and boys, and 94 per cent said that separate toilets were important in schools.” CRY, teachers and students have suggestions for improvement: adequate water facility, timely repair of damaged toilets, adopting hygienic measures, and appointment of sufficient non-teaching staff; education of children on proper toilet usage; monetary rewards for sanitary workers in schools as well as for principals (for supervision and accountability); declaration of schools as litter-free zones; penalty for students urinating against walls; and introduction of compulsory community service such as cleaning walls. (Names of some students have been changed.)

Go Green Girls show the way 3 International Day of the Girl Child 4

When an earthquake didn’t matter, but education did 5 No value for life or land, so whither development? 6 Well... desperate food for desperate times 7 Is world’s largest child development programme falling short? 8

Shift to e-journal
Dear Reader, With increasing printing costs, the Press Institute of India, a non-profit trust, is compelled to stop publication of the printed edition of Grassroots with effect from January 2013. Grassroots will, however, be published as an e-journal from January 2013, and select content will be hosted on our Web site (www.pressinstitute. in). The annual subscription to the e-journal (which can be accessed by clicking the Grassroots logo on the home page) will be Rs 300 and payment (in the form of DD favouring Press Institute of India) can be sent to the Director, PII-RIND, RIND Premises, Second Main Road, Taramani CPT Campus, Chennai 600 113. Existing subscribers will receive either a PDF version or a password to log into the e-version. We look forward to your support always. Director and Publisher

Horrific sights greet the visitor to a Corporation middle school in Kotturpuram, Chennai.


A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

No v e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2



Meet the first woman graduate from the Toto tribe
Located in the sub-Himalayan north-west side of the Indo-Bhutan border in Madaarihat Block in Jalpaiguri District is Totopara Village. The Toto tribe has lived here since the middle of the 18th Century. The tribe almost became extinct due to malaria and kala azar around 1865. Even today, there is lack of sanitation and nutrition, and food scarcity. Thalassaemia and anaemia are rampant, particularly among women, and men suffer from diseases like tuberculosis and various skin ailments. From such a milieu comes Rita, who has graduated in Arts and is the first woman graduate from her tribe. She has set a record and inspired many. But will it lead to a change in the life of members of her clan?

Photo: Anik Dey/WFS

ajitha menon, Totopara, (West Bengal)
access to higher education is difficult. The tribe elders, set in their ways, are not keen on education as they feel no opportunities open up for the educated youngsters," she says. Rita believes that "a government policy promising a job for every educated youth would go a long way in convincing tribe elders to send their children to school". Asha Toto and Anguli Toto studied till Class VI with Rita but then dropped out and later got married as is the norm at Totopara. "We are happy for Rita and regret that our parents didn't push us to complete our education. Being a graduate is a matter of honour and it enabled Rita to spread her wings and move to Kolkata," says homemaker Suktara Toto, another school dropout and Rita's former classmate, adding, "Rita's success is now inspiring other girls within the tribe to take education more seriously." Living in Kolkata has been an eye opener and a learning curve for the determined youngster. "I have realised the opportunities available to educated women. My dream is that every girl child in my tribe gets a proper education. I want to complete my post-graduation, become a teacher and go back to Totopara to teach. However, my family's financial status does not allow me further education right now," reveals Rita, who is proficient in several languages, have a prevalence of thalassaemia and anaemia is rampant, particularly among the women, even today. Clan exogamy and early marriage - by 15-18 years of age - also cause different diseases. Many of the men, who work in the mines as labourers in neighbouring Bhutan, also suffer from diseases like tuberculosis and various skin ailments." Nutrition is a matter of concern within the tribe where the majority live below the poverty line. "For almost five months in a year, we are dependent on forest products or stored food grains. Food changes from season to season. We used to consume maize, kaoni and marua for about seven months earlier but now the staple food is rice. Beef and pork and dried meat are also eaten. Fresh vegetables are rare," reveals Rita, adding, "The Totos prepare a type of intoxicating drink from kaoni or maura known as eu. It is the tribe's favourite drink, consumed daily, even by the women." Totopara displays all the symbols of modern India like cell phones and some pucca houses. There is a school and primary health centre, too, along with a grameen bank, but the grim fact is that the tribe is now struggling with land rights within its own village. Many Nepalis, Marwaris and Biharis have settled in Totopara and the rich are buying the land. Those Totos who can afford to do so are trying to build pucca houses to ensure their rights to the land are held by them. "The village gets cut off during the rainy season, when the surrounding rivers get flooded. Transportation is a big problem. Education, especially for women, comes far behind major concerns like food, health, shelter, transportation, employment and livelihood," sighs Rita. Rita Toto has set a record. But whether it will propel a change in the life of members of her clan depends on how much effort is taken to recognise the tribe as part of the Indian mainstream and provide equal opportunities across all fronts, even to this small, remotely located population. <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

Rita Toto, 22, is the first woman graduate from the dwindling Toto tribe.
becoming the first woman graduate from the dwindling Toto tribe. Says Rita, "There have been only four graduates from my tribe so far. The other three were all males. Jagdish Toto became the first graduate in 1920, but it's extremely unfortunate that in the intervening 91 years, there have only been three other graduates. This clearly shows the neglect and apathy shown towards tribes like ours that remain deprived of basics like education and healthcare even today." The daughter of Sugrib Toto, a Group D employee in the Uttarbanga Kshetriya Grameen Bank, and Urmila, a homemaker, getting an education was an uphill task for Rita. "There are facilities for studying till Madhyamik (Class 10) at Totopara, our village in North Bengal, but Toto student ratio at DM High School, Totopara LEVEL Class V Class VI Class VII Class VIII Class IX Class X BOYS GIRLS 29 16 22 12 20 15 15 14 4 12 11 22

In Toto society there is a clear division of labour – all household work such as cooking, child care and collecting firewood is done by the women and education of the girl child or even the boy is not a priority.
including Nepali, Bengali, Hindi and English, besides her mother tongue, Toto. According to Rajib Chatterjee, senior research fellow in Anthropology, Centre for Himalayan Study, North Bengal University, who has authored a research paper, Life Among the Totos of Totopara: A Study in Continuity and Change, the Toto society is patriarchal with succession going through the male line. "There is a clear division of labour among them. All household work such as cooking, child care, giving fodder to the cattle and collecting firewood, is done by the women. Education of the girl child or even the boys is not a priority at Totopara. Their traditional social and cultural norms also prevent women from participating in political activities," says Chatterjee. Totopara Village is located in the sub-Himalayan north-west side of the Indo-Bhutan border under Madaarihat Block in Jalpaiguri District. The village, comprising 808.06 hectares, is situated along the west bank of the river Torsa and is divided into six hamlets. The Toto tribe, which has inhabited Totopara since the middle of the 18th Century, traces its roots to Bhutan. While the 2001 census had put the population figures at 1184 (males 618 and females 5660), the North Bengal University (NBU) in 2004 found the total population to be 1268 (males 671 and females 597). The male-female ratio as per NBU was 889.71 females/1000 males. "Some government measures to safeguard the population have been effective but nothing has been done regarding the socio-economic uplift and growth of the tribe as a whole," rues Rita. Chatterjee adds, "Totos have an extremely bad health status due to poor sanitation, food scarcity and lack of nutrition. The average male life expectancy is just 35. The tribe almost became extinct due to malaria and kala azar around 1865. They

(Source: Dept. of Anthropology, North Bengal University, 2011)

Totos have an extremely bad health status due to poor sanitation, food scarcity and lack of nutrition prevalence of thalassaemia and anaemia is rampant, particularly among the women.

The Totos prepare a type of intoxicating drink from kaoni or maura known as eu. It is the tribe's favourite drink, consumed daily, even by the women.

Photos: Shantanu Mazumdar/WFS

ike many youngsters in Kolkata, West Bengal's state capital, Rita, 22, works for an IT company. But few realise that when Rita graduated in Arts from Prasanna Deb Women's College in Jalpaiguri, she crossed a milestone by

N o ve m ber 15, 2012

A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition


Empowering through adventure: Go Green Girls show the way


A 3000-km ride along India's east coast pedalling a bicycle, from Kolkata to Kanyakumari … an extraordinary expedition, wouldn’t you say? And when it’s an all-woman group, it’s about pushing the boundaries further, something that the Women's Adventure Network of India strongly believes in. Riding 60 to 100 km every day, the women would pitch tents at sundown, or stay overnight in a school hostel or local club, and be back on the road before sunrise the following morning. Along the way, they interacted with local women, and spoke about environmental concerns. Altogether, it made for an exhilarating experience
rishna Thakur, 30, did not know how to ride a bicycle. "But I'll learn. I want to be part of your women's cross-country cycling expedition," she assured Vasumathi, the leader of the group that was planning a 3000-km ride


sakuntala narasimhan, Bengaluru
25 women, ages between 20 and 58 years, from different parts of the country enrolled immediately. Adventure was second nature to some of the participants. There was Rupa, who was a bungee jumping instructor from the north; Krushna Patil, 20, the highway followed the cyclists "but we did not have to light the stove even once during the 35 days we cycled," says Vasumathi. Local hospitality, received from complete strangers, kept the cyclists fed most of the days. Even at roadside dhabas (small eateries) the proprietor would often say, "I saw your picture in the paper (or on local TV last night), be our guest – "Aap se chai ka paisa nahin lenge (we will not take money from you for the tea and snacks)." In the towns they passed through, local Rotary clubs organised gettogethers, hospitality, publicity, and talks during which the group members described their expedition. After riding for 60 to 100 km every day, at sundown the women would pitch tents, or stay overnight at a school hostel or local club, and be back on the road before sunrise the following morning. "It was exhilarating," recalls Smitha, who maintained a daily blog (www.gogreengirls-g3. for all the 35 days, chronicling the novel experiences en route. The trip also marked a number of firsts for many group members. Two had never seen the sea; one had never sat in a truck, while another had never tasted the delicious nungu (date palm) fruit that south India is famous for. Some of them from the north had never heard of Tirunelveli, Dindugul or Ulundurpettai – picturesque towns along the highway in Tamil Nadu. Starting from the state of Bengal, they passed through Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, learning about the local geography and culture. They discovered Asia's biggest temple gopuram (tower) in Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, the world-famous Konarak temple in Odisha, the different weaves and designs of Madurai, Odisha and Andhra saris – and the cuisine of India. They also picked up nuggets of information en route such as learning at a match factory they visited near Sattur that it takes a team of 60 workers to make a single matchbox. And wherever they halted, the city gals took every opportunity to chat with groups of local women they met during their daily tea or lunch stops. They talked about their hometowns, why they were undertaking a cycle journey of over 3000 kilometres and they even spoke about environmental concerns. "In a sense, this trip was a widening of horizons all round – for us and for the women we encountered," says Vasumathi. They always rode single file on the highways, for safety, with a 'leader of the day' ensuring that the group stayed together and waited for the stragglers or those who got tired faster. If someone had a punctured tyre, they loaded the bike on to the lorry and took out a spare one. "Yes, our thighs got sore and, at one place, we had to share one bathroom among the 15 of us! But it was still fun," the 3G team declares, even days after their memorable trip. The minister for Environment flagged the group off in Tirunelveli

The Go Green Girls group underwent a 3000-km ride along India's east coast, from Kolkata to Kanyakumari, to spread the word on environmental pollution.
along India's east coast, all the way from Kolkata to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of the subcontinent. A week before the Go Green Girls expedition was scheduled to pedal off, Krishna still had no bike, much less had she learnt to ride one. Yet, she was raring to go. There was something about the Go Green Girls initiative that kept Krishna motivated. Today, there are innumerable programmes that aim to empower women; but empowerment through adventure is unique and is something that the Women's Adventure Network of India (WANI) strongly believes in. The association, which was started by 11 women adventurers, includes Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and her associate, Vasumathi, also a seasoned mountaineer. The organisation not only arranges climbing expeditions but has also supported cross-desert camel rides. Having seen the destruction of the glaciers in the Himalayan region during her climbs, Vasumathi came up with the latest idea of a trip that combined feminist and environmental concerns. When the Go Green Girls (3G) cycling expedition was announced, from the west, who had conquered six summits worldwide and was the first Maharashtrian to climb the Everest at the age of 19; and Rina from Delhi, the first Indian woman to ski to the South Pole. Smitha, the deputy leader of 3G, was a trekker and renowned Kathak dancer from the south, while Bachendri's cousin – Bimla – from central India was a trainer and mountaineer. Every region of the country was represented through the participation of these women. After knocking on many doors for sponsorship and being told that the expedition was "unworkable", the group decided to fund itself. However, eventually BSA Hercules provided bicycles, helmets, knee guards and gloves, the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation sanctioned one lakh rupees, the Karnataka Mountaineering Association funded 3G's brochure for the press conferences en route, and the Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF) too pitched in with support. The road trip was flagged off on Republic Day from Kolkata, as the women slowly pedalled their way southwards. A truck loaded with tents, blankets, provisions, kerosene, clothes, and a stove for cooking on

Inspecting the python: "There was a huge python across the highway in Odisha that a lorry had apparently run over," recalls Vasumathi.
while the president of IMF specially flew down to Kanyakumari to flag them in for the last leg. Can they remember any interesting experiences? "There was a huge python across the highway in Odisha that a lorry had apparently run over," recalls Vasumathi, while Smitha remembers an encounter with armed motorbike-borne Naxals at 4 am in Andhra Pradesh. "Nothing happened, we just cycled past, and they let us go," she says. Energised by their cycling expedition the group is already itching to set out on its next trip in 2012. Where are they headed? Replies Vasumathi with a chuckle, "Just wait and see; we're planning something women have not tried before." <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

The Go Green Girls always rode single file on the highways, for safety, with a 'leader of the day' ensuring that the group stayed together and waited for the stragglers or those who got tired.

Photos: Sakuntala Narasimhan/ WFS


A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

No v e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2



Adolescents give utterance to thoughts
or 18-year-old Tulsi Tarafdar, the four-hour trip to Bhavnagar was the first time she had ever stepped out of her village – Sodhalia in Vadodara District of Gujarat. When she completed Class 10, her family forced her to discontinue studies. Her village had no school that offered education beyond Class 10, and the to adolescence – child marriage, domestic violence, sexual abuse, gender disparities – that affect their lives and well-being. They voiced their views in front of government officials and civil society organisations and clearly articulated the strategies and roles of the stakeholders. The girls acted out skits on issues such as physical, mental and social exploitation, female foeticide, alcoholism, gender discrimination within the family, domestic violence, and child abuse and shared stories of child abuse and domestic violence they had witnessed. “It was quite easy for us to play these roles. We see these things happening every day at home, in our families, in our neighborhoods,” says Tulsi. About 1.2 billion adolescents (10−19 years old) today make up 18 per cent of the world’s population.

‘Child marriage must be stopped’
Eighteen-year-old Varsha and her friends, Kiran and Hetal, part of the Adolescent Girls’ Network, travelled eight and a half hours from their village in Banaskantha District of Gujarat to participate in the International Day for the Girl Child celebration in Bhavnagar. The girls were feisty and had strong views. “We believe child marriages should be stopped at any cost. If a girl gets married early, she does not get enough opportunity to grow to her fullest potential and often ends up with an early pregnancy which is not good for either the child or for her own health,” says Varsha, adding, “Child marriage will stop if the girls stand up for themselves and if the community supports and respects her views.” The three girls have been strong advocates against child marriage in their village and have been successful in stopping such marriages. “When one of our group members said her father was planning to marry off her youngest sister who was only 14 years old, AGN members sought the help of the village volunteers and the sarpanch (village head) to convince the girl’s father. When the father didn’t listen to any of us,

Speaking aloud on matters that impact their lives.
More than half of all adolescents live in Asia. In absolute numbers, India is home to more adolescents – around 243 million – than any other country.

Varsha (closest to camera) and her friends from the Adolescent Girls' Network strongly believe that girls must make their voices heard.
we told him that it was illegal and he could be put behind bars. He finally called off the wedding after much persuasion,” Hetal says. Adds Varsha, “We feel this is everyone’s responsibility. If you stop child marriage, you can protect girls from other social exploitation. If the girls are not mature, there are more chances of them being exploited.”

(Inputs from Moumita Dastidar, communication officer, UNICEF, Gujarat State Office.)

Some of the 40 girls from the Adolescent Girls' Network who participated in the workshop and made a meaningful contribution.
nearest school was 10 km away. After months of despair and cajoling, Tulsi’s family succumbed to her undying determination to continue her education. Today, she cycles 10 km every day to the high school in Nasvari Village, along with two of her friends. Tulsi is happy she could stand up for herself and tide over the challenge. “Now I am in the 12th Standard and will soon complete my school education. I think every girl should study. It makes me feel I am smarter than others and I will ensure that all children in my village go to school.” Tulsi has emerged as an activist in her own right. As part of the UNICEFsupported child protection initiative and as members of Adolescent Girls’ Network in her village she and her friends have identified 13 schoolchildren this year and enrolled them in the special training programme in the nearest government school. “We want boys and girls to be treated as equals and we want to stop violence against women. This will help us to create a safe environment for the girls. We want to take these messages to our communities, says 20-year-old Sandhya Patel from Kutch. UNICEF Gujarat and the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment organised a threeday workshop in Bhavnagar, Voices of Adolescents, to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child (October 11). Forty girls, members of the Adolescent Girls' Network in six districts of Gujarat, took part. The workshop started with the girls discussing a range of issues pertinent



Defying odds to continue education
Vidya Meghwal, 20, who belongs to the Schedule Caste and lives in Bikaner, was only two years old when her father died. Her her passing Class 10. She is now pursuing a BA degree. Vidya is a lead member of the Kishori Prerna Manch, an adolescent girls group formed by an Urmul project. She now advocates education for girls in her village and helps them raise their voice against early marriage. A role model for many girls in her community, Vidya wants to be a police officer. “I want to use pressure and wish to punish all those who abuse girls, all those who promote child marriage and parents who don’t send their girls to school,” she says. Surya Dharanga, 19, a tribal girl who lives in Udiapur, was three years old when her mother died. was told to quit classes and look after household work. She refused and began staying with her brother. Surya got admission in a non-formal school run by the Seva Mandir in Udaipur and completed the 5th grade. Supported by Seva Mandir, she later managed admission in a hostel for tribal girls in the city. She, too, is pursuing a BA degree. Having learnt accounting on the computer, she works for an NGO and manages the accounts of migratory labour. She is an active member of Youth Resource Centre formed by the Seva Mandir. Surya seeks a career in accounting, quite remarkable for a tribal girl. Sita Rani Verma of Bikaner wanted to study but had to graze cattle. However, it was not work but family and societal pressure to marry her off early that was the stumbling block. Her five sisters were married off when they were children. Despite early marriage and the odds, Sita wrote her BEd exam in September at age 25 and is now financially self-sufficient. She formed the Kishori Samooh by getting together about 70 women and started imparting vocational education to them. Eighteen-yearold Sharda Khanna from Bikaner,

As the balloons are set to soar, girls who had gathered in Jaipur to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child must have felt their hopes and dreams gaining a fresh lease of life.
like Sita, was married at the age of 16. Her determination to study and be self-reliant made her learn stitching and that helped fund her studies. Vidya, Surya, Sita and Sharda were among the 110 girls who gathered in Jaipur to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child organised by UNICEF and Plan India. < Kalyan Singh Kothari, Jaipur

Vidhya Meghwal.
mother wanted to marry her off but she refused; she wanted to study. Vidya was supported by Urmul Trust field workers and community groups who managed to convince her mother. Vidya completed her primary education from the village school but no school there imparted higher education. When Vidya got to know of a residential school run by the Urmul Trust to support girls willing to complete Class 10, Vidya convinced her mother and got herself enrolled. In 18 months, hard work and commitment, backed by support from the Urmul Trust saw

Surya Dharanga.
Her father remarried. Her brother continued with their studies but she

N o ve m ber 15, 20 12

A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition


When an earthquake didn’t matter, but education did


The earthquake in September 2011 centred within the India-Nepal border killed more than 100 people, most of them in Sikkim. A small girl’s home and school building, located at an altitude of 5500 feet in Bop Village, lay shattered but she and her classmates didn’t give up. They trekked four kilometres daily to another school to benefit from the alternative arrangements made. Most of the students with this exceptional drive turned out to be girls. Despite the tough post-quake circumstances, authorities took schooling seriously and ensured that the mid-day meal programme went on unhindered. To top it all, local people joined hands to ensure the education of their children carried on without disruption
n September 18 (2011), Bimola Rai’s world was reduced to rubble. A student of Class III in Bop Village in Chungthang Block of North District in Sikkim, a Himalayan border state, she was left traumatised when a devastating earthquake of 6.9 magnitude on the

The collapsed building of Moonlight High School.
Academy, another school in the area, offered his own home after the quake severely damaged the school building. Authorities of religious institutions, including local Buddhist monasteries, also got busy. Today, around 42 monks – some very young, others much older – who lived in the majestic Rumgom Monastry, established in 1852 at Mangan, the district headquarters of North District, and travelled a 58-kilometre stretch from Lachen to take religious teaching in Tibetan Buddhism, are now studying in temporary sheds provided by the district administration. The education department has introduced formal education with religious teaching in all the monasteries, having appointed two teachers under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) mission for this purpose. If the alternative arrangements still prove insufficient and some find themselves out of the schooling system because of the quake, a special provision has been made for direct enrolment at the Special Residential Training Centre, established this year (2011) at the Hee-Gyathang Senior Secondary School of the district under the SSA. Joint director Bhutia says he is determined to carry forward the mission to make Sikkim a totally literate state by 2015, despite the disaster. Sikkim has made progress. For instance, the literacy rate in North District increased to 77.39 per cent in 2011 from 67.21 per cent in 2001. After the earthquake struck, priority was accorded to the resumption of education, so that the growth in the education sector is sustained. However, many challenges remain. Says gram panchayat president Lepcha, “One can easily notice signs of trauma and anxiety among these children, as their parents have to face so many problems, including rebuilding their damaged houses.” Recovery will be a long, arduous process given the scattered population, tough geographical terrain and the general devastation. But T.W. Lepcha, MLA, Lachen-Mangan Constituency, speaks for many when he says that his people will overcome. If little Bimola Rai and her classmates are to have a promising future, his words must hold true. <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service; the feature was generated under the inclusive media fellowship awarded by the Centre For The Study Of Developing Societies.)


RATNA BHARALI TALUKDAR, Chungthang, (Sikkim)
Bimola and the other tiny tots are quite happy to attend class at the new site. She displays her books with such enthusiasm that her lovely face lights up, “Our homes got damaged but, just see, my books and uniform are fine. I love coming to school,” she exclaims. meal programme. The lunch provided every day even under the tough postquake circumstances, has given these young students a much needed nutritional supplement, a necessity now considering they leave home very early in the morning. Sonam D. Bhutia, joint director, Human Resource Department of North District, puts it this way, “Restoration of education and ensuring mid-day meals in schools almost immediately after the tremors has proven to be a very successful aspect in the process of rebuilding lives here.” In fact, school authorities in the district moved quickly on two fronts after the quake: they set up temporary sheds for schools that were partially damaged, in addition to making alternative arrangements for those whose schools were destroyed. “These temporary sheds are expected to last for at least for two to three years. We made a detailed assessment of the damage to school buildings, and have submitted it to the higher authorities. We have identified 75 school buildings in this district that need major repairs and six that require minor work,” says Bhutia. He adds that a proposal for Rs 20 crore has been forwarded to the higher authorities and construction activity is expected to begin shortly. It is a measure of how seriously the authorities took schooling that despite an estimated 642 government schools being damaged all over Sikkim, school authorities could organise colourful programmes to celebrate National Education Day on November 11 – less than two months after the quake – giving students a feeling of normalcy. “Schools reopened on October 10, immediately after the

Photos: Ratna Bharali Talukdar./WFS

Students prepare to mark National Education Day (November 11) at Tinchim Junior High School, which has been identified in the category of "major repair" by the Department of Human Resource Development. For now, two room temporary sheds have been provided to run the school.
Dusshera festival vacation. Thus, although schooling began 22 days after the tremor, students lost hardly 10 days of school,” says T.N. Kaji, district collector, North District. Given the message sent out by the government that schools should carry on despite all odds, even private educational institutions made alternative arrangements for affected students. Take the Moonlight High School, a private educational institution in Chungthang. It now runs its classes in the camp of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), on a specially demarcated site. “Before the quake we had 150 students. The number has now come down to 85,” says T.B. Gurung, a teacher in Moonlight High School. He attributes the decline to the fact that the children of the employees of a major hydroelectric project in the area, who had constituted a significant section of the student community there, had left the area with their parents. The lack of proper toilet facilities in the camp is also another factor, especially among the girls. In Chungthang, every house, even if it is still standing, has developed some cracks, according to Lendup Lepcha, president of the Chungthang Gram Panchayat. But Lepcha is grateful that the local people joined hands to ensure the education of their children carried on without disruption. There were many acts of spontaneous generosity. For instance, the proprietor of Mount Everest

Bimola Rai (second from left) with her schoolmates and the headmaster in front of Tasa Tengy Government Secondary School.
Richter scale, flattened her home and school building, located at an altitude of 5500 feet. Today, Bimola joins 26 other children of her village to walk the four-kilometre stretch, filled with quake debris, to reach the Tasa Tengay Government Secondary School. The trek has become a daily feature in her life, ever since her earlier Bop Primary School, made alternative arrangements for her schooling. The brave band of youngsters sets out from their village early in the morning, overlooking the chilly frost in the air, and make sure to reach school by 7.30 am. Bop, about 100 kilometres from Sikkim's capital city Gangtok, is an ancient village. It lies in one of India's most restricted and protected areas and any visitor here has to first acquire a special permit from the district administration. The quake damaged the approach road to the village and it has remained blocked because of continuous landslides from the towering mountain sides that straddle it. The road is yet to be opened for vehicles. Though the trek to school is long and difficult, The school register at Tasa Tengay Government Secondary School had marked the presence of 18 new students on November 8. Of them 13 were girls, all neatly dressed. Says Sita Ram Singh, the headmaster, “This provisional arrangement has ensured the prompt restoration of schooling after the tremors, which is very positive. Our secondary school is now running on two shifts to accommodate the new students.” The district administration’s list of schools buildings that had been damaged during the earthquake has the following remark about the Bop Primary School: “Classes are attached with Chungthang, till new site is found”. This indicates that Bimola’s old school will have to be built again on a new site and if the authorities had not acted so promptly she would have not have had access to schooling for a long while. In fact, according to Singh, there are many young ones studying in even lower classes who have not made an appearance because they are too young to walk the distance to their alternate schools. What has helped re-establish schooling in these parts is the mid-day

Students and teachers of the Moonlight High School that now operates from the camp of the Indo Tibetan Border Police.


A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

No v e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2

No value for life or land, so whither development?
Land grab is not something confined only to India’s cities. Indeed, most land acquisition violations happen in rural India, be it agriculture or forest land. Helpless in the face of pressure from government, political parties and the corporate world, there is often little that the Adivasis and tribes and their supporters can do. Thanks, however, to the courage shown by people like Madhu Mansuri Hasmukh, Munni Hansda, Lakshmi, Saroja and others who support their cause, protests are organised, campaigns are undertaken and those who wish to grab land are literally driven away, but not permanently. Against the might of the administration and powerful lobbies, it’s often, sadly, a losing battle for the displaced
pushpa achanta, Bengaluru


pollution and water contamination arising from deforestation, mining and chemical-based farming. “The local people have been working on the coalfields for a pittance. They have eye, skin and respiratory ailments, earn less and labour for long. Although they have protested against poor compensation and the uprooting of their lives, neither the government nor the private companies have done much. Instead, people come under the police baton during peaceful rallies against the injustice,” Nirvikalpa, a young filmmaker from Bangalore points out. His first documentary, The Curse of Karna, is an incisive 26-minute production highlighting the human and ecological cost of coal mining in the Odisha’s Angul District. At a public discussion in Bangalore on the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill, Ravi Rebbapragada and Sreedhar R. of the Mines, Minerals and People


al. Jangal. Jameen (Water, Forest, Land). The basic survival needs of fisher-folk, Adivasis and Dalits. But water, forest and land are taken away from such marginalised people with hardly any prior notification or compensation, despite land acquisition laws mandating otherwise. “Government officials who must protect people's interests sanction the snatching of agricultural and forest lands from Dalits and Adivasis in return for money from greedy mining companies in Jharkhand. Its former Adivasi chief minister Shibu Soren and his family members benefited by favouring Tata and Jindal corporations in extracting minerals like uranium and bauxite, harming the environment, land and local communities,” says 65-year-old Madhu Mansuri Hasmukh, a retired government employee from Ranchi. Since the 1960s, Hasmukh has been associated with campaigns that have aroused indigenous groups to oppose land grab and reclaim what they have lost. Of Adivasi lineage, this wiry and spirited crusader is well known for an inspirational song which goes: Gaon chodab nahin, Jangal chodab nahin, Mai, maati chodab nahin, Ladaayi chodab nahin. Meaning: We won't leave our villages, Or our forests, We will not quit our Mother Earth, And the struggle for Her.

Battles over land and forests occurred during the time of British rule, although they were sporadic, scattered and often went against the native inhabitants. Unjust legislations such as the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 (replaced by the Habitual Offenders Act 1952) have branded many indigenous communities lawbreakers. “Lands which should have belonged to Dalits and Adivasis were taken away forcibly more than a century ago from their ancestors. In some cases, we managed to track titles and records from the British period and restore them to the rightful owners (descendants of original holders). In fact, we also demonstrated to the youth how to identify their land using GIS (geographic information system) maps, etc,” says Sivaramakrishna P., a cultural anthropologist and veteran land rights activist from Andhra Pradesh. He has documented the culture and traditions of tribes such as the Chenchus in the Nallmalla forests near Srisailam in Kurnool District and the Kondareddys who live in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. Sivaramakrishna has been associated with campaigns and lawsuits to assist indigenous communities in reclaiming lost land. In the forefront of such campaigns are determined Adivasi leaders like Munni Hansda, age around 40, from the Santhal Tribe in Jharkhand's Dhumka District. Educated up to pre-university, she is among those spearheading campaigns resisting mining, dams and power plants by the RPG Group of companies whose operations, the locals say, will destroy

hundreds of villages. “Over the last seven years, through the Prakhand Swashasan Ekta Manch, we stopped surveys by the companies. After a protest rally by 5000 Adivasis in April 2008, my colleagues and I were threatened. In December that year, when 20000 people marched against the issue, police imprisoned me and others, fired and injured many. Two villagers died. Although that scared some, we are strengthening our struggle amidst attempts to lure us with money. They want our land titles for up to Rs 1000 per acre for 30 years under the false assurance of employment. In 2004, around 32 villages in the nearby district were forcibly evacuated in return for hardly anything although much was promised. And persons injured in mining accidents are arrested if they complain,” Hansda explains. While the existence of indigenous groups in Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand are threatened by corporations wanting to take land on long-term lease, forests in Karnataka are being plundered by companies interested in tourism and logging. Among those creating awareness and championing initiatives to reclaim lost forest land and retain what remains is the feisty 48-year old Lakshmi from the Soliga Tribe in Erospet Taluk in Kodagu District in Karnataka. The mother of four girls earns her living by working on coffee plantations. Interestingly, she and the youth from her community render powerful and lively songs filled with stories and messages about challenges. They are around 98 families including

A screen-shot from The Curse of Karna, a short film that highlights the
human and ecological cost of coal mining in the Odisha’s Angul District. people from the Jenakuruba Tribe who have been agitating against the Taj Group of Hotels through the Budakatta Krishkara Sangha. Lakshmi has been at it since she was 26, and has even met officials in New Delhi who promised to resolve the issue and grant the tribe land, but did not. Then there is the barely literate Kannada- and Konkani-speaking Saroja, a 47-year-old agricultural labourer with three children hailing from the Siddhi Tribe in the wet Sirsi Taluk in northern Karnataka. “Cultivable land has been ruined by strong inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. I joined the long, hard battle to restore our lands and forests when I was 18 years old,” she says. Unfortunately, indigenous groups across India who are endowed with knowledge passed down generations about flora and fauna in their lands and how to consume and conserve it, are being forcibly alienated from their comfort zones. The places where they live lack proper infrastructure such as roads or regular water supply. They barely have sufficient and functioning primary health centres or schools, which are supposed to be established and run by the government. Also, they have health problems owing to malnourishment, environmental Alliance said that the government planned to create mining zones covering areas larger than special economic zones. “Minimal details about this are available but it will certainly displace many and destroy the environment with only a few benefiting. And we know the poor track record of the government and other agencies in ensuring relief and rehabilitation to persons whom such projects impact adversely.” The alliance, a growing countrywide network of more than 100 grassroots groups and 20 support organisations across 16 states, is involved in a relentless fight against lands and forests being appropriated by the powers that be. Rebbapragada is a member of the Steering Committee on Empowerment of Scheduled Tribes formulating the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017) and also on the National Forest Rights Act Committee. He co-founded the 25-year-old NGO, Samatha, which successfully fought for Adivasi communities in the East Godavari District against unlawful transfer of land to mining companies in 1997 in violation of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution of India. The Samatha Judgement as it was called was a landmark ruling that protected the rights of Adivasis. <

From left to right: Madhu Mansuri Hasmukh (Jharkhand); Munni Hansda, Jharkhand; and Lakshmi, from the Soliga Tribe (Karnataka).

Photos: PA

Photo: Mines, Minerals and People Alliance

N o ve m ber 15, 2012

A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition


Well... desperate food for desperate times

grassroots grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

A Journal of the Press Institute of India
Registered with The Registrar of Newspapers for India under TNENG/2009/27557


A World Food Programme report says about one billion people go to bed hungry every day across the globe, including 350 million people in India. Many of them live in Odisha. They struggle every day to satiate the hunger of their children in any way they can. Despite the Food Security Bill and various government schemes, the plight of the marginalised remains largely unchanged. Many have empty eyes and a visage marked by years of malnutrition and hopelessness, and live below the poverty line, even forced to subsist on grass when they are unemployed or don’t have access to food. The stark reality of life in many Indian villages
SaRaDa LahanGiR, Rayagada, (Odidsha)
f it were not for her older son, who is all of 13 years, Sarasmati Majhi from Bahadulki Village of Kashipur Block in Odisha’s Rayagada District, would not have been able to keep her family of five children alive. The boy has been taken out of school and now herds cattle in an adjoining village. For this, he gets a kilo of rice and two kilos of millet a month. His mother stretches out the small reserve to feed the family for at least 10 days. For the rest of the time she has to take recourse to “starvation food” such as mango kernels, tamarind seeds, mushrooms and the roots and leaves of wild plants. Sarasmati, 35, an adivasi (tribal) widow, lives in Odisha’s hunger belt. It is for people like her that measures like the Food Security Bill are being contemplated in distant Delhi. Yet, so far, her situation has remained unchanged. With empty eyes and a visage marked by years of malnutrition and hopelessness, she says, “I know that my children need to eat better than the gruel of tamarind seeds. But what can I do? We need to fill our stomachs in some way, don’t we?” She would like to go out and earn some money but her children are too young to be left alone, especially since the only wage work available is in Kashipur, about 30 kilometres away. Starvation has already claimed one member of the family, rendering it even more vulnerable. In 2010, Majhi’s husband Bipin succumbed to what a government report describes as “diarrhoea” but she suspects that it was the watery gruel prepared by boiling millets with mango kernel that had laid him low. She recalls, “There was no food grain in our home at that point because of heavy rains. We were totally cut off from any access to help and were in great distress. It was after consuming mango gruel that my husband first complained of a stomach ache. He died on the way to the hospital.” Kashipur Block has 17 panchayats and 704 villages, with a population of 101541, out of which 60402 are adivasis and 20767 are Dalits. More than 85 per cent of people here live below the poverty line (BPL) and practise rain-fed agriculture. For them rice is almost a luxury.
Photos: Sarada Lahangir/WFS

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Starvation claimed one member of Sarasmati Majhi's family – her husband succumbed to "diarrhoea" brought on by the watery gruel prepared by boiling millets with mango kernel.
Every household tries to hoard their reserves of rice for as long as possible by resorting to supplementary fare such as gurudi saag (leaves from the forests), tamarind seeds, wild mushrooms and roots. The hungriest period is during the monsoon because wage employment is generally unavailable and the fields are flooded. This is when some households are driven to even subsisting on grass and many like Majhi use mango kernels they have preserved for the really lean days. To prepare this, mango kernels are first collected and dried. They are then ground and stored as flour. When required, gruel is made of the substance and eaten. Trouble is that the gruel can also turn extremely toxic. Explains Bidyut Mohanty, a social activist who has been working on Right to Food issues in Koraput and Rayagada Districts: “The severe food shortage during the rainy season, combined with the shortage of dry firewood, leads people here to cook large quantities of food – sometimes for four to five days at a stretch. This food, if kept for a few days, turns fungus-ridden and poisonous, and could cause what is termed as a ‘starvation death’ or death through cholera or diarrhoea.” Majhi’s husband could have died of precisely such a reason. According to Dr S. Kar, who is the director of the Regional Medical Science and Research Institute, Bhubaneswar, mango kernels have carbohydrates required by the human body. But when it is preserved under unhygienic conditions, it could cause

fatalities. The same holds true for food items made from mushrooms, roots and tamarind seeds that the tribal communities routinely store. The authorities have made attempts to warn the local community about the dangers of ingesting such fare. Reveals Lachma Nag, another resident of Bahadulki Village, “Last year, when seven people died because of diarrhoea in this village, the BDO (block development officer) distributed some rice and warned us not to eat mango kernels. But once he left, nobody came back to ensure that we were supplied regularly with food grain. So we have no option but to eat what we could lay our hands on. The situation today is the same as it was last year, and the year before.” There are currently four major government schemes that are aimed at food security for Odisha’s poor: the Public Distribution System (PDS), the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the Mid-day Meal Scheme and, most importantly, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). According to Odisha’s Panchayati Raj minister, Maheswar Mohanty, the implementation of MNREGA in the state has been quite effective. He claims that in 20092010, 85000 people completed 100 days work, which went up to 200000 in 2010-11. But Kashipur’s experience seems to belie his claim. People here still have the two basic complaints they have always had: Lack of wage employment and poor access to foodgrain from the PDS. As Roini Nag, 40, of Pipalpadar

According to Roini Nag, 40, of Pipalpadar Village in Kashipur Block, MGNREGA has made to difference to lives here as despite having job cards they have no work.
Village in Kashipur Block squats in her hut, skinning tamarind seeds that will then be pounded and stored for the family because work is scarce and so is food, she says, “Here everything, especially food and work, is scarcely available. We are surrounded by hills and a rough terrain. This means we may have job cards but no jobs. I don’t know why the government issues these cards to us. Just for show, maybe. What is the benefit of the card if I haven’t got a single day’s work so far?” It’s the same with BPL cards. Food grain from the PDS is available only once in three months. “So even if we have BPL cards, we are forced to take three months’ quota at a time when we don’t have the money to pay for it. It costs at least Rs 50 to buy 25 kilos rice at one go, and where do we have such money. So we end up foregoing our entitlements and settling for stuff like tamarind seeds,” says Nag. Nag speaks for many women in the region. In neighbouring Kalyansinghpur Block, Bhagbati Mali, who is part of a self help group, makes a dare that has a tragic ring about it, “You can come and search our homes, you won't find a grain of rice.” She goes on, “Once upon a time we tribals had a surplus of rice, but over the generations our land holdings have shrunk. Today, we farm millet on small patches of land along with a few vegetables. For water, we have to depend on the rain gods since there are no irrigation facilities here.” <
(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service)

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Two old women work to preserve mango kernel that is dried, then ground and stored as flour. When required, gruel is made of the substance and eaten.


A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

Registered with The Registrar of Newspapers for India under TNENG/2009/27557

Is world’s largest child development programme falling short?
Anganwadi centres set up under the Integrated Child Development Services to combat child hunger and malnutrition do not seem to be working, at least in Rajasthan. Quite alarming, considering it is probably the world’s largest communitybased child development programme. In the centres, an anganwadi worker, usually a woman from within the community, is trained to provide supplementary nutrition to children below six years as well as pregnant and nursing women; they are also expected to give antenatal and postnatal care, organise pre-school activity and provide health and nutritional education to families. However, on the ground, it’s another story: the workers are not educated enough, there is a huge shortage of personnel, quality of services is poor, and child malnutrition remains high. Are lessons being learnt?
rakesh kumar, Jaipur
t’s a rented room measuring 8x8 square feet with 11 children sitting on the floor. They are eagerly waiting for their ‘nutritious’ afternoon meal of dalia (porridge made of coarsely ground wheat or corn), being prepared by a young girl in one corner of the already crammed space, which also accommodates sacks of semolina and rice stacked up against one wall. Once the food is served, the children wolf it down immediately. Some don’t seem to like the taste very much but they eat it anyway. After the meal, the class reconvenes. In a singsong voice Anas Imamuddin, eight, leads the others as they recite their numbers… 1, 2, 3, and the counting goes on. This is just another day at the Amagarh Anganwadi centre in a locality in Jaipur, the state capital of Rajasthan. Located in Parvat Colony behind Bajri Mandi it caters to the slum that is largely Muslim. The anganwadi worker (AWW) Sonu Prajapat and her anganwadi helper, Asha Devi, are nowhere to be seen. It’s Asha’s daughter, Kamla, 11, who is minding the children today. According to the landlady next door, Pratibha Jat, who has rented out the premises at Rs 750 a month, this is pretty much how things function here. When asked why Asha isn’t on duty, Kamla informs us that her mother has gone somewhere with the anganwadi registers and offers no other details. Kamla adds that though she studies in a nearby government school, she cuts class as and when she has to fill in for her mother. Anganwadi centres were set up under the Integrated Child Development



Due to paucity of space, children who come to rural Anganwadi Centre No. 2 at Shivdaspura, 20 kilometres south of Jaipur District headquarters, study outside the one-room premises.
Services (ICDS) to combat child hunger and malnutrition. It is considered to be the world’s largest community-based child development programme. These centres will have to play a key role if the National Food Security Bill is to be effective. According to government guidelines, an AWW, usually a woman from within the community, is not only trained to provide supplementary nutrition to both children below six years as well as pregnant and nursing women, they are also expected to give antenatal and postnatal care, organise pre-school activities and provide health and nutritional education to families. Sounds like a perfect scheme to fight India’s endemic child malnourishment? One only needs to step into the rural Anganwadi Centre No. 2 at Shivdaspura, 20 kilometres south of Jaipur District headquarters, to bust all myths. Run from a single room, the centre caters to 18 women (nine pregnant and nine lactating), 20 children in the age group of 0-3 years; 15 between 3-6 years, and 40 adolescent girls, according to Uma Sain, the in-charge AWW. Due to a paucity of space, the daily hot meal is not cooked here – a local selfhelp group prepares it at home and brings it over. Space constraints have also meant that the supplementary nutrition rations to be given to the community have to be ferried from the block office on the day the ‘take home’ ration is distributed. Moreover, Sain maintains one register with details of the enrolled women and children – as opposed to the 10 she is

Public service messages regarding health, hygiene and contraception get lost in the clutter at Anganwadi Centre No. 2.

required to fill in – and has nothing to show in terms of the monthly growth chart of the children. Shivdaspura, unfortunately, is not an exception but the rule. A recent study, Rajasthan Mein Anganwadi Kendron Ki Sthiti – Ek Adhyayan, released by the Jaipurbased Resource Institute for Human Rights (RIHR), gives greater clarity on this dismal situation. Sample this: In Rajasthan, only 29 per cent children up to six years benefit from ICDS. For pregnant and lactating women, the percentage is a little higher but still unsatisfactory – out of 18.1 lakh women enrolled, only 8.3 lakh – or 46 per cent –are reaping any benefits from the intervention. The RIHR study, conducted from July to October 2010, covers 144 villages in eight blocks of Hanumangarh, Sirohi, Churu and Tonk districts. Says RIHR’s Vijay Goyal, “Quite a few problems have emerged. One, there is a huge shortage of child development and protection officers (CDPOs) in the state. Second, the ones that have been recruited do not inspect anganwadi centres (AWCs) regularly. The poor educational qualifications of the AWWs is another problem. Out of the 144 centres we surveyed, only 70 had AWWs who had studied up to Class 8.” The CDPO crisis is quite grave. One CDPO is in charge of one block, which has 300 to 400 AWCs under it. But the study shows that 87 per cent CDPOs in Nohar Block (Hanumangarh), 86 per cent in DeoliUniyara (Tonk) and 70 per cent in Sangria-Tibbi (Hanumangarh) had not gone for an inspection in three months (during the study period). Their argument is that a shortage of manpower makes it impossible for them to go to every centre in their block, most of which are far away from the block ICDS office. Ashok Khandelwal, advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioners in the Right to Food case – filed in the Supreme Court by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in 2001 – also sees the shortage of CDPOs and supervisors as the biggest problem in implementation of the ICDS in Rajasthan. “As of November 18, 2011, out of 304 sanctioned CDPO posts, 125 are vacant – that’s 41 per cent vacancy,” reveals Khandelwal, who

Photos: Rakesh Kumar/WFS

The children of the Amagarh Anganwadi Centre share their small room with sacks of food grain procured for their mid-day meal. Kamala, 11 (sitting on the chair), skips school to take care of the children in the absence of her mother, who is the appointed anganwadi worker.
has done a study of 10 urban AWCs and is in the process of compiling the data. Besides the personnel shortages, there are not enough AWCs to provide adequate coverage. In 2004, the Supreme Court, in its interim order in the Right to Food case, directed the Government of India to increase the number of AWCs from six lakh to 14 lakh. In Rajasthan, the number should be 70000, but there are only 52541 AWCs and 4358 mini-AWCs. Khandelwal also observes that as most AWWs are illiterate, they are unable to maintain proper registers at the centres. While earlier, each AWW was required to maintain at least 14 registers, the number is now down to 10, but even that requirement cannot be met, as we saw at the Shivdaspura AWC. Space shortage is another major problem. “Ideally, there should be three rooms – one kitchen, one store and one hall for children to sit and study and eat. There should also be a proper playground for them,” says Khandelwal. But most AWCs operate out of small, one-room units. In fact, as of November 2011 there were 1098 AWCs being run from the home of the AWW. The systemic and personnel inadequacies have seriously undermined the efficacy on the crucial scheme. In Rajasthan, malnutrition among children under the age of 3 years stands at 44 per cent, as per the National Family Health Survey – III (conducted in 2005-2006). In comparison, the national figure is 40.9 per cent. Out of total children weighed at the AWCs across the state in September 2011, 41.6 per cent were malnourished and 0.55 per cent severely malnourished. In Vitamin A supplementation, Rajasthan is second lowest in the country at 16 per cent among children aged 12 to 35 months; while 79.1 per cent children aged 6-35 months suffer from anaemia. Clearly, the ICDS has not worked in Rajasthan. Besides the coverage, which is far from universal, the quality of services is poor as well. But all is not lost. Khandelwal suggests linking the ICDS with schools to maximise the impact of the scheme. “This,” he believes, “will solve two problems: One, it will take care of double enrollments (many children in the 3-6 years age group are enrolled both with government schools and the anganwadi centres); second, anganwadis would become centres for preschool education. It can then be made a part in the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act as well.” <
(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service)

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