Painful reality at Haravi

Sushma U. N. | Updated on March 11, 2011 Published on March 11, 2011

The doubling of wages of Anganwadi workers (people who take care of children in villages) announced in the recent Budget, apart from being born out of noblest of intentions, is also based on sound economic logic — put money in the hands of people, you spur demand, and demand drives economy.

But the government would do well to also see that the Anganwadi scheme works the way it is meant to. The painful reality is that it does not, as a group of students from the Asian College of Journalism, on a project in the Raichur district, Karnataka, discovered.

In a state of dismay

The ‘anganwadi' in the Haravi village is an old, dilapidated building with a rickety gate — not the kind of a place where you'd expect children to be nurtured. But that was not so surprising, given the state of our villages. The dismay was what obtained inside, namely, nothing. At 11 am on a Tuesday morning, the Anganwadi was closed. The Anganwadi worker was nowhere to be seen. It took a fair amount of investigation to reach the worker, Rajamma's residence. After a knock, the door was opened by a middle-aged woman, who was visibly rattled by the unexpected incursion of ‘urban' visitors. That she was convinced we were ‘inspectors' whose purpose of the visit was to haul her over the coals for not attending to the anganwadi work, was evident from the way she became defensive at the very outset. “I take care of the centre every day. Only today is a holiday,” she said. That day, she said, was ‘jaatre' a local festival. According to her, she would round up all the children in the village, bring them to the Centre, prepare food for them… There is a teacher too, Rajamma says, who is supposed to come to the centre to teach children, but she never turns up. Apparently, the teacher has another day job.

Upon our insistence, Rajamma reluctantly opened the Centre. The creaking door opened into a small, musty room, cobwebs dangling from the ceiling and couple of torn paintings on the walls. The food which came (from the government) in packets lay in a pile — spoilt. The packets of dry rava, meant to serve as ‘ nutrition supplements', were sticky, smelly and fungus-affected. Not the kind of food that would attract children to the Centre.

Happy children, but…

All the while, a group of children, of assorted ages, had gathered around us, tailing us everywhere. Nice, happy children, oblivious of any Integrated Child Development programme meant for their welfare. A light chat with them revealed that the anganwadi was closed most of the time. The adults whom we met said the children never get to see any food; it is consumed by the anganwadi workers, they said. The children are quite a bunch. As their parents need to work in the fields, the elder children are put in charge of their siblings, and they potter about with the little ones on their waists. Sure, they seemed to be happy — a picture of sharp contrast with the urban children — no burden of books on their backs, no bother of homework. It didn't take too much imagination to visualise the village at a future date — these kids would grow into adults, sire children and go off to the fields to work, leaving their little ones to manage themselves the way they themselves had. There is no evidence to prove that all anganwadis are like Haravi's, but nevertheless, it is true that there are thousands of Haravi's out there. It, perhaps, would not require much more than a little whip-cracking by the authorities to set things on a course of improvement. The Integrated Child Development programme is a great idea, but no idea will work for you unless you work the idea.

(The author is a journalism student.)

Published on March 11, 2011
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