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People's Environmental Awareness - Khati (PEAK) Follow PEAK with the financial assistance of World Nomads on the path to delivering educational, water supplies & solar home lighting systems to Kumaon villages....


INDIA | Friday, 22 February 2008 | Views [874]

Mum's in the field

Mum's in the field

The last few months is a testimony to the fecundity of India - we have had somewhat of a baby boom. Khati's newest arrival is due any day now. Shila has been carting wood, grass and generally working as usual and will continue to do so right up to when the baby is born - which no doubt leaves her a fantastically fit Mum! The family has two girls and a boy and will be bitterly disappointed if the new arrival is a girl.

The inferiority of girls is reinforced daily in a myriad of ways, a gender biased culture that is deeply ingrained. When I quietly point out the value of girls escpecially in regards to labour output, the women agree they can be 'handy'. However, a girl gets married and as such is a net loss to the family - "Why fertilise someone elses garden?". Under the current patriarchal system I find it a litle more difficult to argue my case in favour of girls?! We do notice the practice among the older generation of holding back one girl (ie: not married off) for family labour. Their status does not change.

Shila has diligently cleared a patch in the goat shed, every Khati home has livestock in a room below their living quarters. With the cows, goats and buffalo Shila will give birth and for 10 days (due to notions of 'pollution') she will stay (at least the buffalo is tethered?!). No one can touch mother or child. On the eleventh day she will be allowed 'home', liberated from the urine and shit. On this day Pundit G arrives and a Puja and naming ceremony takes place.

I must digress for one moment.... menstruation also sees you in the 'goat shed' for 5 days. A 'bleeding' woman cannot walk past the Temple, use the village water point, touch anyone else, cook etc. She is literally ostracised as a 'polluted being', though this doesn't mean you get a holiday as you still have to work in the fields. Straying too close to a menstruating women will see you cleansed with 'goat's piss'!

Now back to pregnancy and birth which is a perilous undertaking as there is no Doctor or basic health care facilities. The nearest hospital is a 23 km walk and a 50 km jeep ride away. If something goes wrong (and it frequently does) both mother and child are at risk. Infant mortality is high. The last 'pregnancy emergency' saw a relay team of 35 men carry out Beena in a plastic (I like to call them 'landfill') chair to the road head. Mum survived - baby died. Hirule's Mum had fifteen children - six survive. My friend Champa is pregnant. At the age of 23 two children have died (one at birth, one at 5 days old), one survives.We nearly lost Champa with the death of her last baby when she suffered massive haemorrhaging, it was literally a miracle that she pulled through. 

Reproductive health issues are a vexing dilemma. Many pregnances are unwanted, escpecially when you are dealing with the 6, 7 or 8th child. I am frequently asked for 'medicine' to terminate unwanted pregnancies, often when the women concerned is eight months pregnant (I'd just like to make it clear - I do not oblige). An indication that families want options to controlling fertility. These brief stories are a common snapshot of village life and a sad reality when you have no access to basic health care services when needed, a dire failure of the Indian Government and a county wide problem.

Having said all that we wait excitedly for the town's newest arrival....

Bonnie (PEAK)

Tags: mountain, project, water



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