For last few months, all the newspapers are blaring loudly about only one depressing news. Heart-wrenching, photographs of just bone and skeleton children are flashed all over the front pages. This news is all about the Palghar District of Maharashtra, where day after day, miserable infant deaths are occurring because of the existing extreme malnutrition conditions among the infants in the tribal region.
As and when the first news leaked the ever ready activists had immediately taken it on their shoulder to do their part and promptly held a Dharna calling for the resignation of the chief minister, government etc. And then that is the end of their contribution to the cause. Is the job of the activist limited only to protest? Are they not expected to do any action in that direction?
The malnutrition story suddenly blew up now, only because of a social conscious IAS officer from Palghar, who reported about the large number continuous infant deaths and the government’s apathy. He lamented that in spite of his repeated request still, there is no help from Government machinery and the deaths are still continuing to happen every day. He had said that funds are allotted to NGOs but somehow, they don’t seem to reach the tribal village.
The irony of the situation is that in such cases when the news becomes too hot to handle the Government rushes in, trying to find some instant solution. They opened a center for giving food to the mall nourished children VCDC ( village child development centers) and the food was given six times a day. But by the time the tribal became aware of such facility and started coming there, the center was already closed—Just 21 days after it was opened. Another of such incidence the employment opportunity to all opened by the Government which also fizzled out to a pathetic end. as per the following information. The newspaper Mid-Day of 1st April 1916 edition had reported as follows:
Over 30,000 tribal in the district have threatened to go on a protest if their payment of wages to the tunes of Rs 13.48 crore of last three months for the works done under Employment Guarantee Scheme (ESG) is not paid.
“Between January 1, 2016, and March 31, 2016, a total of 9024 works have been done under EGS scheme in the district at various locations. Wages of nearly 7.94 lakh man-days (amount of work that can be done by one person in a day) comes at approximately Rs 13.48 crore,” The government is yet to make this payment. The workers in the tribal-dominated district are already reeling under issues like poverty, malnutrition, child mortality, and now this non-payment of wages is only compounding their problems.
Now, what do we call this? Apathy or indifference? Already starving people are made to work for three months and no pay was given!
This tribal village is suffering from not one but a multitude of problems like unemployment, poverty, poor sanitation, lack of medical facility and lack of access to facilities because of the absence of good connecting roads. So if we have to stop this dismal mortality of malnutrition deaths, then a sustained and comprehensive plan of action will be the only correct step. A child that never had proper nutrition for five years of his life cannot become healthy by giving good food for twenty days. The program will take years and it should also be inclusive of a continuous medical help. If villagers are given employment their payment should be made on an everyday basis as they are already starving. Job opportunity should be created for both men and women so that more income can be generated.
Besides this immediate action, the long time planning for education and social change are also to be promoted. It is said these tribal still practice many age-old cultural practices and one of them is getting the girls married at a very early age of twelve or thirteen. These girls are already weak-born and have poor stamina. They are hardly ready for pregnancy as their uterus is not properly developed. In this stage when they produce a child, it is born as a weakling and coupled with poor nutrition leads to child mortality. Thus a vicious cycle continues to exist. Hence this child marriage practice is to be arrested as the first step for progress.
The Government is hesitant about interfering with the sensitive matters, like the age old culture and custom. For this case, we should employ Social workers who could work and mingle well with the tribes and slowly bring awareness in them. If rewards, special recognition, financial aids etc are to given for those who marry only after 18 years, then this could definitely bring in some positive results.
Palghar is not an isolated place but is well accessible from both Mumbai and Nasik. A part of our own state people left isolated for desperation and death is a very painful situation. We should not think that it is always just the Government’s responsibility but it is the duty of every one of us. A number of NGO are packed inside Mumbai. Many of them are affluent with lots of funds. If a few of them could move to this tribal area, then it will make a huge change in the life of tribes. If just one of the celebrity decides to step into this area then a hundred fans of that person will follow them and the life of a million children will change. Hope someone will take the first step!
Worli art of the tribes