In Rajasthan's villages, children battle malnourishment, sickness
Karan Kanwar, 3, starts crying whenever his mother puts him on the ground, hoping one day her son will take baby steps like other children. An extremely weak Karan cannot walk until he is propped up.
Karan's poor physical state is shared by most children his age in Aagar - a village in Rajasthan's Alwar district - where almost none of them has been vaccinated against major diseases like diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, tuberculosis and measles.
Ask his mother Sunita when was the last time her son was inoculated and she says: "When I was pregnant", believing he was inoculated when he was in her womb.
No wonder, of the 12 hamlets in Aagar, a staggering 75 percent of the children - aged between 0 and 6 years - are malnourished.
"We have 216 children registered of them 166 are malnourished," an anganwadi worker told a visiting IANS correspondent.
Most of the children have not been vaccinated against major diseases.
Villagers are oblivious to the danger which looms large over their children in the form of diseases, thanks to their illiteracy and almost no services from anganwadis - government sponsored child-care and mother-care centres in India.
"Nobody comes here. I don't even know what an anganwadi is," said 30-year-old pregnant Geeta Kanwar, a mother of four.
Aagar is not the only village in Alwar - only 150 kilometers from Rajasthan's capital city Jaipur - where women and children are leading a life of utter neglect.
IANS visited over a dozen villages in Alwar where children are pale, their mothers frail and authorities don't care.
According to the Rajasthan government, of the 135,000 children weighed in January this year in Alwar, 42,236 were found malnourished.
"It's just a tip of the iceberg. The number of malnourished is much more than what the government says," Ram Bharose, 36, who runs local NGO LPS Vikas Sansthan.
"Anganwadis are in bad state. And the authorities supervising these centres don't care at all," Bharose told IANS.
"Many of the children are severely malnourished but they are registered as only malnourished for maintaining a good record," he added.
Villages like Ajabpura, Kharkhari, Bhangroli, which IANS visited, are inhabited by low caste Hindus. Men are migrant labourers. Almost every women became a mother when she is in her teens in these villages.
IANS visited around 30-40 anganwadis and found them in abysmal conditions with no medicines, no vaccines and no weighing machines at many of them.
"No one comes to us. These centres do not open. These are only on papers," Puran Singh, who served in the Indian army, told IANS.
One such was at Dholi Dhanti, a hamlet in Aagar.
A child in one of the Alwar's villages sitting on the heap of dried tobacco leaves.
Asked why most of the children have not been vaccinated, Hansa Meena, a worker at the anganwadi said: "I am handicapped. My colleagues find it difficult to go to house by house and vaccinate people."
"But we did administer polio vaccine to each of them," Meena told IANS.
When IANS spoke to one of the child development project officers in Alwar, who requested anonymity, he said: "I agree that problem exists. It will be fixed. It is not that bad as you are portraying it to be."
But the ground reality is far worse.
"My three-year-old daughter's stomach is upset for the past 10 days. I take her to the doctor (quack) whose clinic is 10 kilometer away form here. We don't have any health facilities and have to travel far for minor treatments," villager Savitri Kanwar told IANS.
Added Ram Vilas, one of the villagers in Ajabpura: "Our condition is miserable. Nobody cares and we have stopped caring too. We will somehow survive. My child will survive the way I survived in this village."
(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at email@example.com. This story is part of a National Media fellowship work supported by National Foundation of India)
(Posted on 29-06-2014)