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Monday, March 25, 2013

Echoes of the Past!

“How can you make her speak when she has been born dumb!” still echoes in my heart. It was the monthly meeting at the sub-centre where we all (Anganwadi workers and Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) of our area, along with Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM)) met regularly. The only difference was that ‘higher’ officials from CARE had come to meet us today! CARE, an organization working with us had been organizing such meetings for many months now.

Introducing himself as District officer-Outreach in CARE, he started taking feedback of the previous meetings. Suddenly he asked me if I knew ‘how to care for an infant’. I heard him talk about some competitions also which make our work known to all, I had not missed even a single meeting ever since they began. I knew the answer to his query; but I stared at him point blank!

My problem was different! No, I wasn’t dumb as ‘others’ teased me. I had come to become dumb after such long years of repression. Born in a ‘Chamar’ (marginalized schedule caste) community in Ujiarpur, Samastipur; I had seen the burden of life since start. I had 6 younger siblings to take care of; and became a mother at that age. With dark plain looks, short height, curly hair and no money to back up, I was married to first boy they could find. I was hardly 15 then. It was a tender age and I took it as my fate to be abused by in-laws and my husband alike. Whatever little he earned was spend on his drinks. After 5 years, I was survived by 5 children and a mother-in-law. My husband had migrated to Bangalore for ‘work’ and probably forgotten all about us.

In order to pacify the fire of the belly, I applied for the vacancy of ASHA (a volunteer worker for mother and children) in the village. The area for which I was selected was a ‘upper caste’ people dominated. Here too, I had to face a lot of oppression; caste, class and gender all stood between me and my work. By attending sub-centre meets, I could build up my knowledge, but could I fight the disparities of the society?

The answer came through my door one morning. I recognized him as the same official who had asked me a question during sub-centre meet. He wanted to visit my area of work with me. I hesitated, but realizing that nothing much I could do in that, relented!

As I moved through the community I lived in, he started asking people if they were getting my services. “I do not work here”, agitated I faced him. “Then why don’t you? They are ‘your’ people and the ones who actually need you! If you will not work for them, then tell me who would?” He smiled back.

That struck me! There was no ASHA or Anganwadi worker working in that area. Probably he was right; they needed someone, they needed me! That day I decided to do something about myself and my people! This way I did not have to fight the community, only myself!

I asked for his help and time that he most willingly agreed to provide. “The first step is to know ‘whom’ to focus”, he told me. It was an area of 1300 population, Ram tola with predominantly ‘chamar’ community (Hindus as well as Muslims). In next few days, he asked me to make a record of pregnant women, infants and children in the area.

Since, there was no Anganwadi centre in the tola, ANM didi did not come here for immunization. I decided to do something for the same. Next Wednesday I gathered all the women and children who were yet to be immunized and took them to Malti, ANM didi in the neighbouring Anganwadi centre. Indu devi, Anganwadi sevika was surprised at the number of women and children I had gathered; it was the first time I had turned up at immunization day! “Sister, they need services; yours and mine, much more than the ones who are currently receiving them” I told Indu devi. Later on, with efforts from CARE block coordinator and higher CARE officials, we succeeded in convincing Indu devi to include Ram tola in her area as well. Now, she provides the mandatory supplementary nutrition to pregnant women, mothers and children of Ram tola as well. It was a big win against the hypocrisy and caste system prevalent there.

On the day of the next sub-centre meeting, ANM didi informed everyone of my work during the month. I felt shy as well as proud, both at the same time. That month, CARE introduced a register which was called Home visit planner. As others were lamenting about another register to fill, I saw it as an opportunity to expand my horizon further. Now, I could keep a record and plan my work; whom to visit and when! They also gave us a small book along with it. It was the mobile kunji, which became the kunji (key) for my work! As it was easy to carry around, with attractive pictures and messages on it; I used it well. Since most of the women in my community were illiterate (I was one of the fortunate ones to study till 12th standard), they understood by ‘looking’ at the pictures in the kunji.


It was mid-afternoon and Geeta had just delivered a baby boy. She was one of the many women from Ram tola who had delivered in Primary Health Centre this month. Others were surprised; I was proud of the fact! Now, I was initiating breastfeeding the baby in the labour room itself in-spite of protests from the dais (who clean the floor after the delivery) there. They wanted to clean up the area first. “Immediately breastfeeding the baby first is more important than cleaning the floor; this would also help in reducing the blood loss of the mother”, I informed them as ANM didi nodded at me.

Just then I saw the official from CARE there. I ran outside to greet him. Surprised, he smiled at me and asked, “What happened to you? Broke your mon-vrat (vow of silence)?” “Yes and much more than that!” I sheepishly answered.

Next sub-centre meeting, we met again. He had particularly come to attend our meeting. And I was ready for all his questions this time. “Does she talk now?” he asked others, smiling at me. “Bahut bolti hai sir! Kya jadu kiya hai, humko bi kuch sikha dijiye!” they boomed together! (She talks too much, what magic have you done? Please teach us also something now) As other ASHAs resound today “Make us like Kirani (as they call me), I can only smile and remember the echoes of the past!

‘What is worse than losing your dignity?’ Losing faith in oneself! That is the blunder I did. But not any more! I have discovered myself for good now. CARE has made a great impact in my life. Every morning I look within my heart to hear the echoes of the past who give me a new challenge each day as I try to ‘Make My Impact’ on many other lives now!   


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