Saturday, November 29, 2014


i have just returned from a short trip to malkangiri district, dipping my toe there, i guess. i went to the district headquarters for a day, and spent the next three days in mathili. we chose mathili as part of a study since it happened to be the block with the highest proportion of tribal population in the district.

we drove through beautiful forest, and along a river and several streams, the road being a single road and bumpy for most of the way. once we were stopped by some BSF jawans, complete with bullet-proof vests, automatic rifles, and sniffer dog - and asked about where were coming from, where we were headed, etc. but apart from that, though we met them at various places, we were not stopped anywhere. there is a heavy presence of security forces in the district.

View from the road.
i went to the district headquarters for a meeting (huge no of vacancies there in all sectors), and to mathili block where i went to a nearby village called kosabahal, and a V4 village called puttugaon. everyone we met cautioned us to return to the main road before it turned dark, due to security reasons. our choice of village to visit was, therefore, limited by this factor too.

mathili block has had 6 maternal deaths since april this year - those are the reported ones. this is worrying. the universal complaint even in balasore  was that 102 does not respond, that janani express was much better as it was decentralized and the woman could reach the hospital at least.

The UP school at Puttugam

puttugaon lies in a shallow valley and is accessible now with the construction of a bridge and a culvert, but even so, we could only get there over a deeply rutted kutchha road - vehicles will be mired in the mud in the rainy season - all the deliveries seem to be at home since once it is dusk the ambulance refuses to come there. even in the daytime, it often takes so long that the woman delivers before the ambulance arrives. women in labour, or other sick patients have to be taken on a motorcycle, or carried the 12 kilometers to the  roadside.

everyone - men, women, adolescents - are all illiterate, they had no clue about why open defecation can be a problem or what problems unclean water can cause. the men, however said open defecation is now a problem since the forest has been cut and they have to go far for it. the women understand oriya but spoke in a dialect that we could not understand. i can see where basic communication can be a real problem. most of the men spoke oriya.

School student helpline number displayed prominently
there is a school in the village - with over a 100 children between grades 1 and 8, and three teachers. the teachers say they cannot control the students ever since they have been told they cannot strike / slap / beat the students. the students come out learning nothing - but did the beating ever result in better learning levels? but they have convinced the parents that their children's poor literacy skills is the not the their (teachers') fault. the teachers all come from far away - i am not sure how may days a month they actually turn up. and i wonder how many of them can communicate with the children in their dialect to teach them anything....

the encouraging thing here was that everyone eats the chatua (which is the supplementary food provided by the ICDS to young children and pregnant and lactating mothers)even if all members in the family share it, in contrast to balasore where no one did.  and a young 22 year old ANM, who passed out 2 years ago is living in the village. she is from malkangiri and trained in koraput. orissa took a decision a few years ago to open nursing schools in the tribal districts and take only tribal students, in an attempt to try and overcome the problem of absenteeism - it seems to be paying off. this ANM who looks more like a high school student, has conducted several deliveries in the village.