January 2018
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Infants deprived of life due to feeble health of mothers
(Photo caption: Maruthi and her daughter Vichithra of Nellippathy village, with their eyes still indicating fear)

Author: Reji Joseph

(Attappadi, Nov 27, 2016, DG): The lifespan of the child born to Ponnamma in her second delivery was just five days. Ponnamma was made to understand that this was mainly due to the lack of adequate blood in the child. The explanation of the Health Department was that both mother and child were anemic. The infant, born at the Agali Government hospital, weighed only 1.25 kilograms

When Ponnamma's third delivery took place on 23rd March, 2015, twin children were born, it was another tragedy to be faced by her. The first child was male and died within a few minutes and the female died on the eighth day. She was told that the infants hadn't sufficient blood to survive. Having studied only up to class four, she could not understand anything more than that.

Rani of Mettuvazhi village has only sorrowful experiences to share. The attention needed during her pregnancy period and the supply of food packets by the health department were not adequately provided to her. The single preventive injection she received was carelessly administered in a vehicle of the health department.

When the pregnant women of Mettuvazhi village reached the mobile camp in great difficulty, crossing considerable forest areas and streams, the response of the officials of the camp was that that their arrival was too late and that it was time for the officials to return back and so they administered the preventive injections on the pregnant women sitting in the hospital vehicle. They ignored the fact that adequate food at least two times a day was much more essential to those pregnant women than preventive injections. The child born to Rani died a few weeks after birth. The verdict of the health department was that the cause was lack of blood in the child.

Meenakshi of Edavani village, Saraswathi of Chembuvattakadu, Chithra of Nellippath, Pushpa of Velappathy too have only stories of woe to tell. The babies born to these and many such tribal women often die in their wombs before they can even touch or see them. Otherwise they die within weeks after being born. There are numerous instances here of such fetuses dying in premature stages of birth and buried on hillsides or on river shores.

The health department claim to have conducted 280 medical camps for the benefit of the tribals and also administered disease preventive injections on women and children. Government records testify this to be true. However, these camps and injections could not yield beneficial results, as the tribal mothers were predominantly very weak and unhealthy due to the lack of not just nutritious food, but food as a whole.

For preventing infant deaths, the Janani Janma Raksha Scheme was started last August. However this scheme and all other connected relief schemes stopped halfway. The Janani scheme was instituted to ensure adequate nourished food to pregnant women and newborn babies.

The scheme was to provide Rs. 1000 each month to them continuously for 18 months and extended till the newborn child attained the age of one year. The promise was that the money would reach their homes by money order. Within a few months this scheme came to a standstill. A few mothers received this help for two or three months. The Janani Scheme had assured medical attention and continued care, besides financial help.

Meenakshi of Pattimalam narrated her complaint as under: 'Our fate was such that three tribal women were accommodated on a single bed, along with their newborn babies in between at the Kottathara Hospital, often referred to as a Super specialty Hospital tribals hospital. There is not even enough space on the hospital floor.

When patients reach Kottathara hospital for treatment by undertaking a difficult journey through forests and wading through waterways, the authorities of the hospital advice them to go to Palakkad, Kozhikodu, Trichur or Coimbatore hospitals. "We have no money with us to go to such places. Actually we are afraid to go to Kottathara hospital for treatment. It would be much more safe, convenient and economic if we conducted the deliveries in our own huts, just as our mothers did" they say.

Out of 238 children admitted to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre established in June 2013, only 38 could achieve normalcy. Studies revealed that 83 babies were unable to breathe properly or even suck breast milk.

The central government minister, Mr.Jairam Ramesh, who visited Attappady in June 2013, immediately proclaimed welfare schemes to the tune of Rs. 125 crore on the same promised that an 18 month special project would be implemented for this purpose involving formation of a special task force to perform prescribed duties. The tribal women were overwhelmed when they further heard that a Rs. 50 crore Mahila Kisan Project specially intended for tribal women upliftment under the Kudumbasree Women Empowerment Scheme would soon be started.

When the lamentation and weeping of mothers of Attappady holding against their chests the dead bodies of their beloved babies that died prematurely reverberated in Attappady, the Special Kitchen Scheme came into being. The explanation was that starvation deaths could be averted by the implementation of organzed food distribution through Anganwadies.

With this objective in view, 192 special kitchens were opened in 2013 in Attappadi region to serve cooked food to pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and young children. In the initial stages its benefits were derived by 1050 children in the age group between six months and three years,1500 children in the age group between three years to six years, 1627 teenage girls, 420 pregnant women and 362 breast feeding mothers.

Like other similar welfare schemes, this social welfare scheme too collapsed within a few months. This was not because of lack of food consuming beneficiaries or lack of persons for preparing food and serving it.

The failure occurred because the supply of rice, vegetables and other food materials, ceased. A whole lot of fungus coated rice, worm eaten dals and beans remains unused and discarded in the anganwadi kitchens of Agali, Puthur, Kottathara, Edavani and Nellippatty villages. The ultimate result of the scheme was that the social service department and the Kudumbasree ladies who took the trouble of preparing gruel and tasty dishes fell into debt.

The present position of the scheme is that 85 special kitchens have completely closed down and 40 of them are partially working. The liability that has fallen on the social welfare department is over Rs. 60 lakhs, being the cost of rice and other cereal food materials purchased from the civil supplies department. The arrears due for payments to Anganwadis, who managed the social kitchens is around Rs. 50 lakhs. The explanations given as to why the social kitchen had to be closed down are diverse.

When the rice prepared in the social kitchens turns insufficient due to high demand, the wailing and cries of the remaining beneficiary children follows. They then get just half a measure of gruel, mixed in water and served in clumsy vessels to quench their appetite, which they consume hungrily and then sleep on the broken floor, with their faces reflecting misery and worry.

A 20 kilometer hazardous journey has to be taken in order to purchase 25 kilograms of ration rice and that too through rough, rugged and dangerous forest regions as well as rocky paths. Jeep charges of Rs 400 have to be paid extra. The ration material is often carried by pregnant women on their heads, which adversely affects their health.

The tiny tots accompanying them have to be carried on their backs in cloth slings too making the journey even more difficult. There may be other children also with them, who would be clinging to their mothers clothes and walk with them. The life of people in the interior villages of Attappady is thus truly a great struggle, miserable and depressing.

It is through the use of ration rice purchased by a full day's strenuous effort and carried home as a head load, that 450 families dwelling in the interior of villages such as Melethuduckky, Thazhethudukky, Kadukummanna, Meenkara survive. If they begin their journey at 6 a.m. and walk for three hours at a stretch, they can reach Anavayal . From there they have to hire a jeep jointly, spending Rs 400 and reach the ration shop at Puthoor.

They reach back home carrying the ration materials on their heads and shoulders by 6 p.m. or sometimes even later. If wild elephants obstruct them on the way, as sometimes happens, they will be forced to return to their huts emptyhanded. Even though the rule is to supply 25 kg of rice at Rs one per kg, the quantum delivered to them is below 20 kg of rice. There is no means for these poor, helpless and deprived tribals to take steps against the offending ration shop owners, who steal from them.

The facts of births and deaths in these forest regions as revealed by the statistical information provided by the Palakkadu District Collector, are highly alarming: : 'The number of persons who died in Attappady last year is around 1000. Babies born there during the period number around 600. In short, the number of deaths far exceeds the number of births. This points to the possible danger ofextinction of the race. The health department also testifies that 80 percent of the mothers of newly born children have no milk in the breasts to feed their children as a result of their poor health.

It had been announced by the Government that egg and milk would be distributed free to the tribals through Anganwadis. It directed the Anganwadis to purchase egg and milk on their own and supply the same to the children in the area, with a firm assurance to refund the amount spend by them for the purpose at the end of each month. Those Anganwadi teachers, who get only Rs 4600 per month as salary, are now immersed in heavy debt, since the promise of reimbursement of the expenses incurred for purchasing eggs and milk was not kept by government.

All surveys and investigations confirm that there is a severe lack of nutrition in pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. in Attappady region. 20 percent of women have had to undergo abortion more than once. The body weight of new born infants usually ranges from 600 grams to one kilogram. Even in remote villages of Kerala, pregnant women are examined and scanned three or four times during their pregnancy.

But in Attappady, pregnant women are mostly taken to the nearest hospital only when deliveryrelated pains start. Since there are no ambulances or other means of safe conveyances of pregnant women to the hospital, usually quite far away, some of them are even disgracefully and appallingly compelled to deliver their babies on roadsides due to the jolting and bumpy journey to the hospital that they sometimes take on autorickshaws. After all the physical and mental pain and depression these poor and weak women endure, their new born babies often die due to the lack of food.

Each and every interior village in the Attappady region reflects an example of woe, hardship and misery. The tribal families generally live in a crowded area of one or two acres on hill slopes, in 100 to 200 single room houses provided by the government, which are just 6.5 feet in height and having a small kitchen. Some have even been inconsolably living here in these tiny single room houses for two or three generations.

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