Sonal Matharu finds out how schemes for women and children are all about making money and neglect their health
At the entrance of the district hospital in Rudraprayag in Uttarakhand, the photographer with me was threatened that her sunglasses would be crushed. Reason: she had wished a baby girl for 22-year-old Suneeta Pawar who was in labour. Rakhi Devi, Suneeta’s sister-in-law and a mother of four girls, threatened her with determination. “We already have five girls in the house. My sister-in-law also has a girl. We do not want more girls,” Rakhi said defending her wish for a boy.
“What will girls do?” she questioned. A boy can get a job and earn for the family. At the same time amazed that two girls travelled from Delhi to a remote district in Uttarakhand, Rakhi wished her girls could also go out and work when they grow up. But with hardly any work for males in the district, girls finding employment seems a remote possibility to Rakhi even after a decade.
She was, however, elated a while later. Suneeta had a baby boy.
While it is a common practice in Rudraprayag for women to go for permanent sterilisation after two children–one of them must be a boy. Rakhi is now the mother of four girls for her longing for a boy. There are many women like her who have had several girl children for want of a boy.
In another case, in an interior village of Ukhimat block in Rudraprayag, 24-year-old Kamleshwari Devi could not recover from severe anaemia after the birth of her third girl and died after a month of delivery. She became anaemic after the birth of her second daughter but that did not deter her family for persuading her to go for a third child, hoping that it would be a boy.
Unfortunately, multiple schemes for women and children development have neglected the need to inform women about the health impacts of multiple pregnancies, abortions and childbirths. The schemes are all about making money rather than defining a social change.
Most women opt for institutional delivery only for money. After all the Janani Suraksha Yojana offers an incentive of Rs 1,400 to a woman if she opts for delivery in hospital and Rs 600 to the Accredited Social health Activists (ASHAs) if she can persuade a woman to give birth in hospital. Even the programmes for family planning are money-driven. A man receives Rs 1,100 for vasectomy and a woman gets Rs 600 for a hysterectomy.
ASHAs who receive an incentive only when they ensure a delivery in hospital rarely promote family planning as it interferes with their incentive. Consider Kamaleshwari Devi’s case. Her sister is the ASHA of her village, yet she did not tell her the consequences of multiple pregnancies when anaemic in the hope of incentive and she succumbed to anaemia.
The National Population Stabilisation Fund under the Union ministry of Health and Family Welfare, however, made a beginning to induct young couples in the nuances of family planning. But again, they dangled money for motivation. The scheme, called Prerna, gave awards to couples who had their first child after two years of marriage and the second child after a gap of two years. If one of the parents opted for permanent sterilisation after the second child, the couple was awarded. But the scheme never gained popularity. I wonder if people behind the scheme could convince families not to risk a woman’s life for a male child.
Of all the 12 new mothers I spoke to in all three blocks of Rudraprayag, not one was illiterate. The minimum qualification was class 10 and the maximum M A. But none of them contributed outside the household work. Upliftment of women in society is important so that they are wanted.
The government schemes must encourage spreading awareness and bringing a social change in the society rather than only working for money. The change will definitely not come overnight but a beginning has to be made in this direction. Till this change is seen, the women in Rudraprayag, and in most other parts of the country, will keep dying for a want of a son.
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