The Bhawander in Tonk - after the storm, the rain
By Girija Devi
Village Salilakhapura: Rumbling along a dusty and bumpy road, it takes almost one and half hours to traverse a distance of 45 kms from Jaipur to reach Salilakhapura, a village which is almost in the back-of-the-beyond.
This village of 200 people had no Anganwadi centre, no health sub-centre or village shopping outlet, only a Rajiv Gandhi primary school. Eight months back it was no more than a dot on the arid landscape of Tonk district. Today the villagers understand why only one child was registered at birth. Now the auxiliary-nurse-midwife (ANM) makes it her duty to visit the village; scores of children have been covered under the Vitamin A supplementation, pulse polio and routine immunization programmes.
The villagers' awareness on the sale and use of iodized salt is now so unshakeable that the local Panchayat Support Group (PSG) warned a local provision vendor who sold a pack of spurious iodized salt. The pack was returned and the vendor was enlightened about the fact that iodized salt is best used only before expiry of 24 months from the date of packing.
Feeding newborns colostrum was a taboo in the village. Village youth volunteer Geeta motivated and convinced mothers about the benefits of initiating breastfeeding within one hour after birth. Today we could see two newborns being exclusively breastfed.
Village Dhikolia: Ramavtar Jangid, the local owner of a small provision shop, says. “The anganwadi centre was a wreck - a shelter for cows and goats. The anganwadi worker and ANM refused to even visit the village because they had no place to sit. Motivated by the Gram Shakti project, I managed to get the support of the villagers in making a temporary arrangement in the village community hall. The panchayat support group took stock of the situation and negotiated with the Gram Panchayat to renovate and fund repairs to the anganwadi centre. Now you can see how it stands and shines!"
Village Thatha: Bhanwari Devi, the anganwadi worker is a 24/7 live helpline who goes beyond the call of duty in the village to ensure that every child, especially girls of the village, get enrolled in the local primary school. She takes the Thatha children to the middle school in the neighboring village of Kankarwada and ensures that they do not drop out after class 5. In addition, she makes frequent visits to the middle school for impromptu 'Parent Teacher meetings' and monitors how "Her" children are doing.
Village Natwara, Niwai block: The Sarpanch of this village Laxman Singh standing on the steps leading up to his traditional and palatial house towering in the background makes a grand arching sweep towards the village and proclaims “ Today out of 600 households, we have 350 households who have built latrines in their homes. You wait we will be the first in the district to achieve 100% sanitation coverage in this village and claim the Nirmal Gram Puraskar.” A visit to the homes in the village proves that his words are not exaggerated – we could see well-constructed clean toilets in the homes being used and maintained.
Village Gudu Anandapura: A village panchayat support group sits under the shade of a neem tree in the heat and dust of a typical May summer afternoon. They are busy discussing the burning issue of water affected by fluoride and are debating the costs of buying a domestic deflouridation kit. The local village youth volunteer Shanker is busy filling up forms for the family making the contributions. In one corner Jagdish, another local youth volunteer who has been trained in radio programme production techniques under the community radio project is busy recording the ongoing dialogue for Radio Banasthali. “I will ask them to include this in the Gramjagat programme. I intend to organize the PSG and others to listen to the radio broadcasts and then spread this knowledge far and wide”
Village Jivli: In the government primary school, Pradeep Kumar Gupta, the headmaster proudly shows visitors around his school. There is a difference in this school – nine-year old girls scrubbed clean with big, sparkling kajal-rimmed eyes, hair neatly plaited and ribboned , eagerly respond to the teachers questions on the theme of the day “Festivals”. In the classroom the walls are painted in bright colours with the masterpieces of the local artistes – the school children ! At the school entrance, quite symbolically, we see many girls studying, sitting against a wall with a “Meena going to school” poster.
In the 1,044 villages in 231 Gram Panchayats with a population of 958,503 in Tonk district where the integrated village planning project Gramshakti was initiated, there are strong winds of change blowing. Community monitoring data collected in the household surveys during the village planning exercises and the revisit data after a gap of 6 months in 500 villages show astonishing changes – a jump in birth registration from 55 to 43%; institutional deliveries up from 25% to 38%; fully immunized children (12 months) up from 50% to 74%; households using iodised slat from 46% to 70%; ANC checkups from 33% to 56%; exclusive breast-feeding from 39% to 65% ; handwashing from 10% to 56% and reduction in malnutrition levels from 55 % to 50%.
The 3,000 village youth volunteers , the village PSGs, the Panchayats are all part of this movement. Statistics have to be verified by experts but they are indicative of some significant changes at the grassroots.
The challenges remain daunting in this district: 25 anganwadi centres out of a total 900 in the district are in private buildings with inadequate electricity, water and sanitation facilities. There is a severe safe-drinking water issue in 70 schools of 3 blocks in the district; about 20% school latrines are not usable due to faulty construction; 90%
Out of 303 ANM posts approximately 274 are filled and the gap is felt particularly acutely in the far flung and remote areas of Tonk where ANMs (97 out of 256) do not reside in the places of duty.
Among some of the demands the villagers have raised in the village development plans are more teachers in schools teaching regularly; quality of teaching, weak or defunct School Development Management Committees; drinking water issues and non-functional health facilities.
In Rajasthan during the dry, hot summer months there are perpetually violent dust storms called “bhawander” raging in some part or the other of this desert state. Typically, when the storm abates, the mercury plummets down rapidly bringing rain and much needed relief from the scorching heat.
In more ways than one the Gramsahkti project in Tonk is truly a bhawander heralding positive changes for the people in times to come.