“This Woman In Uttarakhand Is Beyond Conventional ‘Joys’ Of Motherhood”

From the diaries of SBI YFI Fellow Deepshi Arya: Motherhood is a bed of roses, in the lap of thorns with no prior inkling of the sleepless nights to come. The newborn ‘bundle of joy’ makes sure that you enjoy the late-night tantrums and of course, the scented potty. All these seem to joys of motherhood. But for Kamla who lives in Manarsa village in the state of Uttarakhand, the concept of the ‘joy of motherhood’ is nonexistent. She doesn’t consider it to be a privilege nor is it a sacrosanct feeling – for her it is a normal course in life. She goes about her daily chores with the additional duty of making sure her three-year-old, whom she still breastfeeds, survives. She does not understand the whole idea of reveling in the little moments of Divya’s first step or her first utterance nor does she bother about wiping Divya’s mouth or nose every time they get messy.

mother-new-3-450x400Kamla is not paranoid about the hygiene factor as I watched the mother and child sit on the rugged floor and giggle even as the flies rested on them. Kamla could afford to spend these moments with Divya because the community was in mourning due to a death in the neighbourhood. It’s fascinating how all villagers live as a family and they rejoice as well as mourn together. The neighbours usually perform the role of babysitters for Divya when Kamala has to go for  ‘ghaaskatai’, (cutting of the grass from farms for fodder), a duty which every ‘pahadi’ woman has to carry out. She is proud and not concerned about Divya being under the care a neighbour. The children are not given constant attention by their mothers and verbal encouragement for every little feat of theirs, most of them go unnoticed.

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“Apne aap chali jayegi,” (They will go on their own) said Kamla, when I tried to help Divya who was jumping down the rocky steps carved out of the hilly terrain, which looked taller than her little frame, clearly not matching the safety standards for my city trained eyes.

The pahadi way of life poses more challenges to the children in comparison to those living on the plains. It was a breath of fresh air to see Kamla teaching her child to accept sweets from a ‘stranger’ didi, while she welcomed me into her home with warmth and affection. It’s a different experience when compared to the air of mistrust that lingers in the lives of city dwellers.

unnamed-2“Apne aap chali jayegi,” (They will go on their own) said Kamla, when I tried to help Divya who was jumping down the rocky steps carved out of the hilly terrain, which looked taller than her little frame, clearly not matching the safety standards for my city trained eyes.

The pahadi way of life poses more challenges to the children in comparison to those living on the plains. It was a breath of fresh air to see Kamla teaching her child to accept sweets from a ‘stranger’ didi, while she welcomed me into her home with warmth and affection. It’s a different experience when compared to the air of mistrust that lingers in the lives of city dwellers.

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Many city-bred mothers are often fussy about sanitising their hands and also of others around her child, to ensure a germ- free environment. On the other hand, Kamla is proud of the fact that her little one ate every piece of her ‘toja’, even those that fell on the muddy floor while chewing away the plastic wrapper which is considered a ‘no-no’ by many.

Kamla may not teach Divya rhymes and alphabets but she makes sure that she teaches her life skills and values of their culture. The way Kamla is raising Divya does not match the conventional idea of motherhood or all that is considered safe and hygienic, yet, this to me is a different kind of motherhood created by the space they occupy; a motherhood that is usually not spoken about. A motherhood that is not about measuring the child’s height and weight regularly or paying attention to every babble and every smile. It is not a motherhood of the privileged; it is the motherhood that every pahadi woman knows to be true. Her moments of pride are not when the child recites a rhyme but when the child happily runs and plays with all and even a stranger, and is also independent in its own way, while the mother is away performing back-breaking duties from dawn to dusk.

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“The Unstoppable Women Of Mandapathar”

From the diaries of SBI YFI Fellow Piyush Kuhikar: “Yes, we all did”, Chandrakala Malik says proudly. A rare accomplishment of ‘open defecation free village’ has been achieved in Mandapathar where Chandrakala resides. Mandapathar is a small hamlet in the Gayaganda Panchayat of Ganjam district in Odisha, a state which is infamous for open defecation. Situated in the midst of dense forest, Mandapathar has nothing to boast about in terms of infrastructure. In this hamlet, which has no road and no electricity, life seems to be untouched by modern civilization.

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Just a few years ago, the situation was pathetic. Diseases ravaged this village because of unclean water. “We had no choice but to use the river water for everything from bathing, to cleaning the animals. Animals and humans used to drink water from the same river,” says Chandrakala. Because of this, 80% of the children in this village suffered from scabies. Some people even died because of diarrhoea.

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The village transformed because of Gram Vikas that came in the year 2011. When the Gram Vikas officials, during a meeting in the village, spoke of having sanitation facilities and 24-hour water supply in each house, the idea seemed outlandish to these villagers. With regular meeting, the women were gradually convinced. “The men couldn’t be convinced, so we went ahead with the idea,” says Chandrakala as the men sitting beside grin.

The process to get water and sanitation facilities start with each member of the family depositing ₹1,000 in a corpus which is deposited in a bank. The interest accrued on this money is used to build additional toilets when the family expands. Once the corpus fund is collected, the villagers are asked to bring the raw materials required for constructing individual toilets. The bricks are mostly made by the people. Sand and gravel required for preparing the concrete mixture are also paid for by the people. Gram Vikas helps them manage the meetings and teaches them masonry. The organisation also arranged a government subsidy for constructing these toilets.

The women had to face a lot of problems in raising the corpus fund. The men had simply refused to contribute ₹1,000 per family. Faced with stiff opposition and reluctance of the men to finance these toilets, the women took a call. The village’s Self Help Group, Maa Thakurani, pledged ₹16,000 to the corpus fund for 16 families. This was a risky but a very commendable action which made every one realize how determined these women were.

These women were really unstoppable. When men refused to help build these toilets, “We learnt masonry and started constructing the toilets ourselves,” says Hira Jani who served as secretary of Village Water and Sanitation Committee that was formed to monitor the toilet construction.

By 2013, all the toilets were complete. A tank that supplied water from a bore well through solar-powered pump was also built. This tank now supplies water 24 hours in the village; this is something that even the city folks would envy.

This village today boasts of 100% access to sanitation, thanks to Gram Vikas and the women. Every family pays a maintenance fee of ₹30 per month to maintain and repair the solar pump. This village does not have to rely on the government for water supply.
Children do not suffer from scabies anymore and diarrhoea has become rare.

Gram Vikas, which started with the sanitation project, now aims to provide income generation training to these highly motivated women. And, to this, the unstoppable women of Mandapathar have readily agreed.

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