UNICEF-supported Bhavai performance creates awareness on Iodine Deficiency Disorders in Gujarat
by Gurinder Gulati
September 2005 - It was a different pied piper mesmerizing the children with his matchless tunes emanating from his Bhungal, a long funnel-like instrument, on a dusky monsoon evening in Gharana, a remote village of Kutch district in Gujarat. The compelling tunes from Bhungal, brought not only the children, but also women and men alike thronging to the village centre-square to watch a breathtaking performance of Bhavai (Gujarati folk theatre) supported by UNICEF for creation of awareness on consumption of iodized salt and iodine deficiency disorders.
The lines of the song were scripted by Bachubhai Varsaria of Gujarat Bhavai Kala Mandal especially for the day’s performance on iodized salt in Gharana. It was a hit especially with children as it triggered laughter along with a strong message of using iodized salt. Says Bharat Dangar, a student of class seven, “Iodized salt should be used for healthy development of children. One need not worry about the cost as it is repaid in terms of better health.” Similarly, the folk show effectively communicated the message of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) among children. Reiterating this, Tara Kumbhar, a class six student says, “Use of iodized salt in food prevents goitre and birth of handicapped children.” It is no wonder then that Dipen Navin, a class eight student and the son of a local Anganwadi worker has grasped the message even better. He emphasizes that use of iodized salt develops learning capacities and prevents delayed physical and mental development.
Bhavai is an ancestral profession for Mugatlal Nayak who had played the character of Rangli, the female jester in the show. He remarks, “We have been successful in striking a combination of education with entertainment. Since this is our first show, we also learnt a lot about the importance of iodized salt. Now, I will also spread this message in my village.” Similar are the sentiments of Ishwar Nayak who had played the role of a pregnant woman and had received accolades from the audience. He proudly declares, “Women like my role a great deal and they unabashedly articulate that I am doing a good job for the womenfolk. No wonder why there were more women than men in the show today”
Although the folk show is at night, the work of performers begins during daytime. During the day, the troupe is involved in community interaction and publicity about the show in the village. According to Purshottam Nayak who played the role of Ranglo, the male jester, “We do not miss this opportunity to go from house to house to invite people for a free show. We also went to the village primary school to make an announcement of the show so that more children can benefit from this ‘edutainment’.” The village people also appreciated the IEC material distributed by the troupe on use of iodized salt and iodine deficiency disorders. Manjibhai Ahir, a provision shop owner states, “I am feeling happy to do whatever little I can for this noble cause by allowing the artistes to display posters in my shop on use of iodized salt. Although I have been selling salt for the last so many years, I did not know about the importance of iodized salt. I will now make it a point to sell iodized salt only”.
Gujarat, with the longest coastline of 1600 kms, produces nearly 70% (10,586 metric tonnes) of the country’s total salt. The state thus has an additional responsibility of countering the bane of IDD in the country. However, high prevalence of goitre is marked in many pockets of Gujarat such as Dangs (24%), Valsad (12.5%), and Bharuch (8%). “Hence, it is a typical case of darkness underneath the lamp”, says Purshottam Nayak. It is to bring light to these areas that UNICEF has joined hands with Song & Drama Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to launch a public awareness campaign on use of iodized salt through Bhavai, which is a popular medium of behaviour change communication in the state.
The impact of these folk shows is but obvious on the knowledge and attitude of the people in villages of Kutch. According to Ganesh Aahir, a bhajnik (spiritual singer), “Many dramas had been performed in our village, but this is unique. Now, people will ask for salt packets with the symbol of rising sun. The women of the village have also decided to use iodized salt only”. Shantiben Aahir, an agricultural worker remarks, “one should always use iodized salt. We can save our children from the scourge of iodine deficiency disorders like goiter, cretinism and low IQ. Iodized salt is the secret of our health and intelligence”.