20th December 2007
Sravani and her friends were playing on the steps – with what, it was not clear but they were lost in their own little world until we marched in. We gave her her alloted packet of 500gms ragi, as we were giving to all the children who were malnourished according to the latest record of weights taken by the AID India staff. As we left I noticed that she was nibbling on a coconut shell. It had no coconut in it. The image remained in my mind for a long time.
Was she going to the anganwadi? Friends laughed – what anganwadi?
I could not believe that there was no anganwadi. I went to visit the local anganwadi center. Children came to have their daily bowl of kichdi. She brought out some games and said that they would play those games as well. I went to bring my daughter as well. Next day I went at the same time and saw the children sing some songs, do some exercises, and then have their bowl of khichdi. Some children forgot their bowls and so the anganwadi worker gave them small plates or tiffin boxes to use. Friends told me that all this never happened, it was only because I was going there that she was putting on a show. But the first day I went unannounced, I said. Oh but whenever there are visitors then she gets active. I talked with her about how many pregnant women and children she was serving, and saw her weight charts. She said that she did not get adequate supplies and therefore had to keep “adjusting” and rationing what inadequate supplies she got. For example she said that she did not receive oil for the past 6 months and so was spreading the oil very thinly or using her own oil. Also she only received supplies for 8 pregnant women but in fact in her area there were 25. So she said that the people had to adjust and that either she gave less or she rotated and gave in alternate months.
Villagers laughed at all these reports. We’ve gotten nothing, not in alternate months, not every third month, not even one month of the entire nine months of my pregnancy did I get a single packet of rice, dal or oil, though they came and entered my name in their lists. The only time they come around is to write our names in their list and to give immunizations. After that we never see them nor do they answer if we ask for our supplies.
I visited the other anganwadi center, a little farther in the town. If our first center was operating at 1/4 of its intended capacity, this was not operating at all. She told us, “the kids just left” which was hard to believe as there was no sign of kids having been there or eaten – no food crumbs lying around, no cleaning up, etc. We went the next day at the time she suggested, and again she told us that the kids had just left. Why so early? “Oh today is ekadasi.”
The blatant feebleness of her excuse made me alternately angry and also feel pity for her. How could a well-to-do woman be reduced to stealing grains from the poor? We asked her about her salary. Turns out she doesn’t always get that on time either and never in full. She described the math involved – their received part of their salary every month, and the other part as arrears every six months. From that also some was cut. “How can that be?” we asked. “mari anganwADi anTE ante!” [that is what anganwadi is!] she exclaimed.
We are planning to attend the sector meeting of the 18 local anganwadi workers. We went to the village and talked with the women who reported that they had received nothing and asked if one of them would come along to the meeting.
Long discussion ensued. It turned out that the women feared reprisals if they came to attend the meeting. Higher caste members of their own village would boycott them, fail to pay their annual payments (which are traditionally given to the barber community, for example) or worse – literally come and beat them up. It has happened before on some other issue. So in effect she told me, we don’t need the government’s kilo of rice that much.
As we walked back and discussed what approach we could take at the meeting, my friend said that the anganwadi workers would not give up their perks so easily. If they were siphoning off grains every month it would not be so easy for them to give up this income and all the connections it brought them. She said that one could often observe at weddings of the rich, piles of grain bags that had come from the anganwadi program. Why dont you report this to the police? I asked. What is to report – the police already know this, she said.
“konDaki mEsina burra konDa vEpE cUstundi.” The animal grazed on the mountain will continue looking towards the mountain, explained my friend.
I wonder when Sravani will be reaching for the mountains?