“Arre, Shanti, you weigh 48 kilos!”
Ramsheela, the community health worker, was ecstatic. Not often did a woman in the village make the scales tip over the 40 kilos mark.
Jotting down the weight of the young woman pregnant with her first child, Ramsheela turned to me and said, “Shanti’s husband is the panchayat secretary.” Bringing home a government salary, he could afford a diet for his family that the others in the village could not. “Besides,” she added, with a smile, “theirs is a love marriage.”
Blushing at the attention, Shanti stepped off the scale. Twisting the corner of her sari pallu, she went back to sit on with the group of pregnant women and young mothers.
Payake, seated next to her, mother of three, weighed 34 kilos.
Lakke, expecting her second child, weighed 35 kilos.
Anita, a first time mother, weighed 37 kilos.
The underweight women in Karli village
Such severely underweight and anaemic mothers make up the norm in Chhattisgarh’s tribal villages. Poor in health and nutrition, they give birth to weak babies. Forty eight out of 1,000 babies in the state die before they turn one. Those who survive grow up malnourished. According to the last available national family health survey, 53% of the state’s children are stunted, 24% are wasted, and 48% are underweight.
The anganwadi model