About 20 kilometers from Bajag there is village called Chakrar in the Dindori district. There Mamta Bai is very active as an Asha worker. She always encouraged women of the village to go to the hospital for delivering their babies. She used to teach them about sanitation, healthy food and mother-child health care. Mamta’s work saved many infant deaths but she could not save her own child who died because there was no doctor or nurse to look after her in the hospital. Her husband Suresh Kumar and a few village women were with her in the hospital but they were absolutely helpless. She vomited the whole night but not even the nurse came to see her.
By the sunrise Mamta was fainted. In the morning a doctor came and instructed the nurse to give her drips and went away. Doctor and nurse were least bothered about the horrendous time that Mamta was going through. Suresh begged the doctor to see her as she was dying but the doctor was surprisingly indifferent. Few hours later the labor pain started and the nurse took her to the labor room. Her delivery was a bit complicated. There was no doctor and the nurse was completely untrained. She mishandled Mamta’s case and only baby’s leg came out while the rest of the body was stuck inside. Mamta was suffering and screaming but instead of calling some doctor the nurse told her husband to take her to the Dindori hospital.
Suresh requested for the Janani Express but hospital administration had thousands of excuses for not helping him. First they said jeep is out of order, later they demanded money for diesel. But poor Suresh had no money to buy diesel or hire a private transport to ferry his wife to the Dindori hospital. Mamta’s condition was getting worse with each passing moment. The baby’s leg was hanging outside of Mamta’s body while the remaining part of the baby was still inside. Considering Mamta’s worsening condition and Suresh’s helplessness, a few people of Bajag collected donations among themselves and took Mamta to the Dindori hospital. The baby had died before they could reach the hospital. Even Dindori district hospital doesn’t have any surgery facilities. There the attending nurse merely announced the lack facilities and referred the case to Jabalpur hospital. By then Mamta had become unconscious. Suresh had no choice but to leave everything to fate and just wait to see the consequences. Eventually, with the help from one Dr. Marco, the dead baby was taken out of Mamta’s body in the Dindori hospital only.
In the Dindori district, 25 kilometers from Samnapur, Nania Bai works as a midwife in the Pondi village. Two years ago, her grand-daughter Santoshi Bai had some complications in delivery and was taken to the Dindori hospital, 25 kilometers away, by bus. Nania says “We are tribal poor people living in a small village. No one in the hospital treats us with civility. They shoe us away because we are illiterate and poor.” After arriving at the hospital, Santoshi’s condition worsened and instead of providing her with the medical attention the hospital staff asked Nania and others to take her to the Jabalpur hospital.
“Collecting small donations from neighbors we had somehow managed to bring Santoshi to Dindori but we had no money at all to take her to Jabalpur. Finally I made a decision. I told my son and other accompanying villagers that we will go back to the village. I decided that I will take care of my grand-daughter. The baby had died but I had to save Santoshi’s life. We brought her back to the village and after hard efforts of 2-3 hours we could extract the dead baby out of Santoshi’s body by massaging her belly”, Nania recounts. She further says “the hospital staff is literate and degree holder. We have not studied any book but we have trust on our experience and love. The hospital nurse doesn’t care if my grand-daughter or any other woman of the village dies. But I do care. Our village is like a family. We have more trust on our own people than on the hospital doctors. We have more trust on our jungles and herbs than on their medicines”.
This is not only Mamta's or Santoshi's story. Baiga tribal living in the villages of Mandala and Dindori face the same situation. They don’t trust the government and its schemes. Lured by Rs. 1400 that they get on opting for institutional delivery, a few poor tribal might choose to go to the Primary Health Center for deliveries but in heart they believe that delivery in home is much better and safer. The hospital doesn’t have any doctor. Only an inexperienced nurse, whose age is sometimes even less than 30 years, carry out deliveries. Earlier trained and experienced midwives from villages used to help hospital in deliveries and they would get Rs. 100 for each delivery. But now the government has banned midwives. There is no sanitation staff in the hospital. Women accompanying the delivering lady have to do cleaning after the delivery.
About 65 kilometers away from Bichia in Mandala district there is a village called Sijhaura. The Primary Health Center of Sijhaura is staffed only with a nurse and a compounder. Heaps of waste and filth is the main occupant of the labor room. This room is so filthy and smelly that one can’t stand there without covering nose. Ironically, a big poster on the wall reads that there should be at least basic minimum facilities in every labor room. This poster appears to be mocking the room and the entire healthcare machinery. No doctor is stationed in this Center. The “Janani Express” does not arrive even after making repeated phone calls in the event of complicated cases. In such a situation, the woman is transported on a bicycle or a tractor to the Bichia hospital or otherwise she is just left to her fate in the home. There is only one doctor in Bichia hospital and even he remains absent most of the time. A compounder writes medicines on a paper slip. This slip does not carry any signature because legally every prescription must be signed by a doctor and here the doctor himself remains absent. If you wish to go to the district hospital in order to find out about the actual situation or to ask as to why there is no doctor in the Sijhaura Primary Health Center; you would not find anyone to answer this.
For centuries the Baiga tribal have been living in the jungles full of Mahua and Sal trees. It is these jungles that are their doctors. Kanha forest, spread in the vast expanse of 940 kilometers, has been the home for Baigas since very long time but now they are being chased away from here. In the name of drive for saving tigers and forests the government is making laws to ban tribal from the forests. The tribal have been getting fruits, roots, herbs and shrubs from these jungles. Nania, the midwife, says “So far we used to bring herbs for the pregnant woman from jungle to ensure smooth delivery. After delivery if a woman is not lactating, feeding her with certain herbs would make her lactate. But you don’t find these herbs everywhere and now we can’t go in the jungles”.
Habitants of Ranjara, a Baiga village, say that the jungle is our home and every tree here is like a family member. Tribal never cut a tree. They worship trees on every special occasion. They consider trees as gods but the government feels that the trees are endangered because of the very same tribal. Resident of Mohganv, a village 15-20 kilometers from Bichia, Baniharo Bai had gone to the jungle to collect firewood along with four other women of the village. Mohganv is located barely 300 meters from the boundary of Kanha. In the forest, the Forest Watchers caught sight of them and the women were pursued. Baniharo and other women managed to escape but 17 years old Sukhwati Bai was captured. Later the Watchers came to the village and caught Baniharo and the other women as well. Baniharo says, “They hit me with fists on my back, breast, shoulders and throat. They slapped us and drove us around in the jungle in a jeep for hours. They asked us to pose with the trees as though we were trying to break them. The Watchers photographed us while we were forced to pose. Sukhwati Bai’s engagement was broken because of her being caught by the police.”
The inhabitants of Mohganv are so poor that they have nothing but rice starch to eat round the year. Buying fruits, vegetables and milk is unimaginable for them. Until now, they used to bring soft bamboo and Chakora leaves from the jungles but now even that has become out of reach. Most of the women and babies in this village are suffering from malnutrition. One year old Sunita is so weak that one can easily count her bones.
People making policies sitting in New Delhi and the capitals of states have no idea of the real situation. Instead of government schemes, the tribes living in the jungles have more faith in their years of experience and their trees. By making “Janani Suraksha Yojna” and a host of other such schemes, the government can increase the number of institutional deliveries on paper but would it also be able to earn the trust of these people? Considering the present situation, this appears to be highly unlikely.