Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why this callousness di?

Twenty innocent lives were lost because of  our callousness. It is true that the school administration is primarily responsible for preparing and distributing the food. But it is not true that the school is wholly and solely responsible for it. Structurally a number of checks and balances are built in to the system. But they do not work because of the apathy of the people, their inability to fight for their rights and entitlements. I agree children are not the vote banks but parents are. When did you last hear of a village voting in the panchayat elections  making quality education, nutrition, health care, and employment as election issues? If the village community wants, it can pass a resolution to suspend the Sarpanch, it can audit the gram panchayat accounts and file RTIs to get information. There is so much power vested in the people. Then, why don't they exercise the power? Why the apathy? If an outside contractor comes and builds a sub-standard building we can understand the feeling of helplessness, but how do we explain when their own panchayat and community members build substandard buildings?

Working in 66 villages in Shahapur, we  see the functioning of the system very closely. Every village has at least 5-6 service providers - school teacher, Anganwadi Worker and Helper, pada worker for sanitation and surveillance, ANM and ASHA for  health services and gram sevak. Funds are disbursed and  utilized by the panchayat under the various schemes. Village level committees are constituted to ensure that the schemes are implemented efficiently and effectively by the service providers and the funds are utilized appropriately by the gram panchayat

However, it is frustrating to see that at every level the system is subverted. For instance, often the gram Panchayat members misappropriate the money with the connivance of the gram sevak, of course maintaining perfect records. Wells are cleaned, building are repaired, roads are laid and employment provided... all on paper. Accounts and records are maintained perfectly. The service providers are either hand in glove with the panchayat members are bulldozed and threatened to tow the line.

In most cases we found that the Village level committees for education and nutrition, water and sanitation etc are not functional. Many members are not aware that they are members, those who are members do not know what their roles and responsibilities are and finally those who are active are active for lining their pockets with little concern for the children,their own community members or their village. A few oonscientious  members are silenced by the powerful and are mute witnesses to the pilferage and misappropriation. In short, no body has a vision or dream for their village and lack pride in their village. There is total apathy, self serving leadership and large scale subversion of the system.

Let me narrate a case to highlight the issue. In one of the villages in Shahapur we found during public weighing of children that 24 of them were in the 3rd and 4th grade of malnutrition requiring immediate attention. However, in the records only 4 were shown as so. The AWW and ANM did not want to show so many cases in their records as it would reflect badly on them. Analyzing the situation we found:

Parents and other adults in the village were not aware of the significance of weight monitoring and did not pay attention to the children. Being a poor community, parents were daily wage laborers who had no time to seek medical help for their children.

The self help group which was providing food was only giving rice cooked with turmeric. No pulses, lentils,oil or vegetables were being given. The reason being, the group was to use their money and receive reimbursement later. Since reimbursements often did not come for more than 6 months they were reluctant to spend their money on procuring the appropriate rations.

The AWW and Helper were not actively working to convince parents to send the children to the Anganwadi

Parents were not keen on admitting the children in the hospitals as they could not afford to forego their daily wages on which the entire family survived
They were supposed to receive compensation for lost wages but the Primary Health Centres (PHCs) were not able to disburse the money on a daily basis for many reasons, which defeats the very purpose of having the provision.

The number of malnourished children was brought down to 4 within six months by plugging all the gaps. Adolescent girls were roped into counsel parents and accompany children to Anganwadi. SHG members were counseled about importance of nutrition and were convinced to provide food as per the nutrition chart, a camp was organized in the PHC with parents getting wage compensation on a daily basis.

The community understood the gravity of the problem and arranged through a donor to distribute one egg to each child as additional food supplement.

More importantly both ANM and AWW worker were motivated to take care of these children, of course with a warning that if they do not then the cases would be reported to their seniors.

Our delivery structures are good and our paper work is excellent. If we go only by the reports we would have nothing to worry about, but the reality is so different.

Do we shrug our shoulders and say that "we are like that only"! Would shifting the monitoring indicators from the quantity of services to quality of services improve service delivery? Who should measure the qualitative impact- third party researchers? Village community? So far the service providers are the providers, monitors as well as evaluators of the programme. Time we make the system work through people's participation.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Being Human

A few days back, after a session on gender sensitization a young colleague asked  me " if patriarchy is all pervasive and every institution supports it, is it ever possible to bring about gender equality?"

Recently there was a little tweeting on an advertisement of Delhi Police, where a daughter of a policeman says" I will follow the footsteps of my father" the question raised was why not show daughter of a police woman saying" I  will follow the footsteps of my mother"

Imagine how refreshing it would be if a son of a police woman was shown saying " I want to follow the footsteps of my mother" !

Patriarchy manifests differently and to varying extent in different contexts. What is important is for men and women to be conscious of it's existence and challenge it at every opportunity.

Look at our equations with our spouses. Are they equal? Are we making decisions consciously? Let me share with you a small study done by Sophia college students. Girls were asked to choose qualities and qualifications that they seek in their future husbands. Most girls chose better economic status, higher educational qualifications and assets over qualities such as understanding,sensitivity, liberal thinking etc. Thus marriage is aspirational for many women, get married into a wealthy family or to an IAS officer or what have you and your life is made. When marriage is based on such a requirement, how can we stop the practice of dowry and under valuing of women? Don't you think the equations would change when women start looking inward for fulfillment and achievement than gloating in reflected glory of the achievements of their husbands?

I cannot talk about gender equality to students if the equations between the male and female teachers is a reflection of the power equations at home. Male teachers being authoritative and female teachers being submissive. Female teachers engaged in cleaning and decoration work and men handling mikes and sound systems when there is an event. If a child never sees a man cooking or caring at home it would be very difficult for her/him to even imagine that it is possible. I have seen idiosyncrasies of male professors at the university level being ignored but those of the woman professors being exaggerated and stigmatized. And we ignore and often participate in it, because we are not using our critical thinking or wearing our gender lens.

Often people say that you are reading too much into an incident or a remark. If a sexist remark is passed do we just ignore it or show that  we have noted and not approved of it? I always feel we should be conscious of where to draw the line. It is your call and the other party has to respect it.

Gender is not about women. It is about the power equations between men and women. Just as we women fight for our right to be in the public places and work places, it is also important that we make space for men in kitchens and creches. I see women going into a frenzy when a male guest enters the kitchen to help, they do not mind my doing it, even if I am meeting them for the first time.

I also , particularly in middle and upper income families, that girls are being brought up to make them independent , confident and assertive. But at the same time there is no attempt to make the sons caring, nurturing and sensitive. They continue to be what they always have been   Dependent on women for all their daily needs,aggressive and violent.

When each one of us looks at oneself as a human being, and not as a man or a woman and are able to realize our full potential we would have a better society. Just imagine how beautiful life would be if only we could be rid of the burden of living up to the expectations of ourselves and others from us as a man or women.