Sunday, October 4, 2009

working and travelling in northern madhya pradesh was very educational, especially after 11 years in orissa. the feudal system, for example, is not so evident in orissa as here. caste plays a big role in everything in these districts of morena, tikamgarh, shivpuri and sheopur. in 2005 i remember a sub-collector at the collectorate in one of these districts, who was a dalit: he was given a separate pot and glass tumbler to drink water from. when we were going to investigate a measles outbreak, no one wanted to travel in his jeep. i heard later that after he was posted elsewhere, a "shuddhikaran' was done of his room. no doubt his pot and tumbler were broken.

i remember too, an ANM who would not touch lower caste women, not even to give the tetanus toxoid injections necessary in pregnancy. there was of course no question of measuring their blood pressure or of doing an abdominal examination.

a group of women who had a lease on several tanks in tikamgarh and ran a successful business in fish were unable to get their anganwadi functioning. they were reluctant to talk about it, but after some weeks opened up enough to confess that the anganwadi worker belonged to the thakur family in the village. since it had not rained the past two years, and the two handpumps in the village were dry, the only source of water for the group (lower caste women) was the thakur's pump that was put on each morning to water his fields. if we protest, even this source of water will be denied to us, they said. also, they would beat up our men, and maybe even kill them.

the anganwadi remained closed, the rations sold or consumed by someone else.

morena and bhind were different: the deep ravines and the stark landscape disquieting. in bhind, no upper caste man worth his name will go around without his rifle. it is a persuasive weapon for all purposes including once for insisting that i attend immediately to see a child who had been brought to me. i was in a school building setting up a temporary centre to manage an outbreak of cholera, and surrounded by many patients, but i left everything and went to attend to the child, who it turned out, was severely dehydrated.

the ravines provide a safe hideout for the various gangs of dacoits who roam freely between uttar pradesh and madhya pradesh. one notable one is the gadariya gang: he being known for his respect for women and for not touching them. one of the reasons, i am told, that he is tolerated in the area by the locals.

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