Morning after Ajay’s talk we sat to draft the petition letter and the format for collecting signatures. Based on our initial survey the previous day, we knew that some families had received rations once or twice, and some not at all. Also it appeared that they did not receive the full quantity allocated to them by the program. For example many reported receiving only one glass of dal (150 – 250 gms) while the program provided for 1 kg / month for 15 months.
We demanded that the Collector and responsible officers of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) see that the anganwadi program gets implemented properly, by ensuring full and timely delivery each month of the “take home ration, ” namely rice, dal, cracked wheat and oil to the pregnant women and new mothers, and daily functioning of the anganwadi centers for feeding anble officers d engaging children in learning activities each morning. Furthermore we demanded that they deliver the rations owed to the families from the past. Finally we demanded that each anganwadi display a notice board clearly describing what services the center offered and what each woman and child were eligible to receive.
We took the forms and looked for homes with young children and mothers-to-be. We had no plan as to who should sign first, but we wondered if there would be any hesitation in signing first. Anyway we approached the SC colony and an elderly woman asked what we were doing. We said we were finding out if people were getting anything from the anganwadi.
“ETi lEdu” (not a thing)
“Emi ivvalEdA? garbhini appuDu istAru kadA?” (nothing? but during pregnancy they give, right?)
“mAlalaki istArEmiTI?” (you think they give to mAlas?)
well that is why we are sending this letter to them, we need you all to sign it.
Meanwhile a young mother came and we explained the letter to her. She said she had received nothing from the anganwadi, and she had even gone to ask once but they didn’t give her anything. She explained that because she was from a low caste, she could only ask so much. “mEmu takkuva jAti kanaka mEmu takkuvaga nE aDugutAmu.” But she was ready to sign the letter. We told them that if the officers come and ask you you must tell them the same thing that you are telling us now.
Sure we will tell them, mAkEmiTi bhayamEmiTI? tinTE tinnAmani ceptAmu, tinakapOtE tinalEdani ceptAmu. (Why should we be afraid to state the facts, if we ate we will say so, if we didn’t eat we will say so.)
Emboldened by her response and signature we proceeded to other homes. Not a single person hesitated to sign the letter. Many told us they had come to the meeting the night before. One woman who had spoken up strongly at the meeting talked to us again when we visited her at home. Apparently that morning some officials had visited her house and asked her why she was making all this fuss. Why all this fuss now, when no one raised the issue before? They implied that there may be some ulterior motive, that she was trying to get the anganwadi worker fired. She told them that there was no personal agenda here, and if she did her job right then no one would have any complaint.
Later we learned that the sarpanch had also called our coordinator’s home. So he and two volunteers went to meet him. They came back even more vigorous than before. They explained how we got into this, that while distributing ragi to severely malnourished children we heard from many people that they were getting nothing from the anganwadi, so we are trying to change that.
The sarpanch understood the goals of the letter, and appreciated the part AID India was playing. At least he realized that there was no ulterior motive, no political agenda or affiliation, and nothing against the people occupying the post. But he promised to correct the problems within a day or two, and asked us not to send the letter. Let us see.
A sad fact that emerged as we talked to the women while collecting the signatures was that the anganwadi workers do administer the “injections” though they do not give them the food rations. Giving malnourished children medicine or immunizations may be risky. Even well nourished children can have adverse reactions to immunizations. If they are able to see a doctor who can correctly diagnose that, then subsequent immunizations can be modified – either delayed, separated (giving one at a time rather than multiple innoculations at once), or cancelled altogehter based on the risk to the individual patient. It is highly unlikely that a village health worker would be equipped to diagnose adverse reactions to vaccines. Basic issue is that good nutrition is the primary immune booster.
Looking back it is almost funny how we stumbled into this issue. When I had asked where is the anganwadi for Sravani, I heard that the anganwadi was actually in the house next door to hers, but it never ran. However the next day Varalakshmi told me, the anganwadi is running do you want to go see it? So I did. After chatting a while with the worker as the children trickled in, I said I would go and bring Khiyali. In this way I visited this center three days in a row and all three days it ran for nearly an hour. At the meeting someone reported that because of my visit, some children who were attending some other preschool were pulled to come and attend this anganwadi. And on the day when I was not in the village, apparently the ayah had started to call the children but the worker told her, “no need to call them today there is no visit.”
Notice board seems to be a very important component because people don’t really know how much ration they are supposed to receive each month. Even when we asked the anganwadi workers themselves it was hard to get a simple answer to the question, “how much rice do you give each month?” A clear notice board would fill in an important missing link – right to information went hand in hand with their right to food.
In fact some people expressed surprise when we asked them if they were receiving anganwadi services. “mI pillalu anganwadi ki veLtArA?” “mIku anganwadi ninchi Emi istAru?” we always phrased the questions positively. Some simply answered that they got nothing or that their kids did not go to the anganwadi, but some said, “what anganwadi?” In the weavers colony, one conversation went as follows:
“anganwadi lEdu mA panchayati kE lEdu” (anganwadi? our panchayat has no anganwadi.)
“manaki panchayat undEmiTI?” (panchayat? we have a panchayat, what?
“adEmiTi panchayat unDakapOvaTam EmiTI?” (what do you mean, how can there not be a panchayat?)
“weavers ki panchayat undEmiTI?” (do weavers have a panchayat?)
“wevers ki lEdu.” (no, weavers dont have one)
“mari aTlA aitE lEnETlE” (then it’s as good as not having one.)
I should have probed further as to whom they felt the existing panchayat belonged. Probably notice boards on the panchayat meetings, etc would help. as well.
On the train back from Srikakulam I described these recent events to an elder woman from Bhubaneshwar sitting next to me. She said that the government has very good services, they just do not reach the right hands to implement or benefit from them. I told her how we talked with the anganwadi workers and the supervisor. She said “struggle karna paDega, aur kuch nahin.” (People must struggle, there is no other way.)