Today is a big day for Ms. Shashi Prasad. With palpable excitement on her face she stands outside the Government Hospital of Madhubani Ghat Gram Panchayat, East Champaran, Bihar. An active member of Comprehensive Health and Rural Development Society (CHARDS), a CRY supported project, she has been working very closely with the Mushahar community in the districts of Bihar, specifically in the Panchyats of Madhubanighat and Bardaha.
The Mushahar communities are mostly localized in Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, West Bengal and terai of Nepal. The population of this community, hunter-gatherers by occupation, fall under the ‘Mahadalit’ SC category. Residing on the outskirts of the village areas, all of them are below the poverty line. For livelihood options, they turn to marginal labour work in agricultural fields of the landlords. Sometimes they also migrate for working to brick kilns and usually come back during harvesting seasons. Most of them are landless, unemployed, illiterate and extremely backward. Moreover, due to the fatal Bihar Flood of 2017, they could not even engage in harvesting. Owing to this, most of the community’s male members migrated to other states like Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Assam and west Bengal.
There is a complete lack of sanitation in and around the houses of Mushahars which accounts for malnutrition amongst children and due to absence of cleanliness. Thus, they are usually affected by various diseases. Lack of education plays a huge role for their apathy towards accessing services from the Government like health structures, immunisation, institutional delivery, anganwadi centres etc. Superstitions and misconceptions also play a role in getting them secluded from the social structures.
Primary schools and Anganwadis do exist in the locality but eventually after months or even days of enrolment in the school, their children drop out. “They turn into child labours, child marriage is also rampant” says Ms. Prasad.
When CHARDS started their intervention, another problem caught their eyes – the whole community believed in home deliveries. No woman would go to the hospitals to give birth. So CHARDS planned and executed various campaigns throughout the year on benefits of institutional delivery, safety hazards of home deliveries etc. Their perseverance paid off and for the first time, five women took resort to hospitals for getting their babies delivered.
“It is a big, big day for us. It’s so much more than what meets one’s eye. These are success stories that will set an example to others who hitherto believed that home deliveries are better. It’s a big leap for the whole Mushahar community. It took the women all their strength to fight the stigma and push the wall,” exclaimed a member of CHARDS. They want to continue their intervention in the areas and engage deeply to eradicate the stigma attached to institutional deliveries.
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