18-year-old Sarjubai Tota (lying behind the baby) weighs a mere 28 kg and was paralysed in the third month of her pregnancy. On May 20, she gave birth to a girl, who weighs 1 kg, without any medical assistance

Sukhda Tatke, TNN | May 29, 2012,

SANGRAMPUR (BULDHANA): On May 20, 18-year-old Sarjubai Tota gave birth to a girl without any medical assistance in her thatched, one-room marital home. While Sarjubai weighs a mere 28 kg, her daughter weighs 1 kg (the normal weight for a newborn is around 2.5 kg).
Eight days on, Sarjubai hasn’t even held her daughter once. In fact, she is oblivious to her daughter’s presence. Paralysed in the third month of her pregnancy, Sarjubai now drifts in and out of consciousness and spends most of her time moaning in pain.

As shocking as Sarjubai’s situation is, this is the way of life for people in Shemba village where the Totas reside. The Sangrampur block, which includes Shemba village, of Buldhana district has emerged as the new Melghat with over 2,000 malnourished children and this year’s drought has only made things worse.

“I have to trek four km down a hill and then walk another six km to reach a shop from where I can buy milk. Water is a luxury and we get it if we are lucky. I don’t know how my wife and child will survive in these conditions,” said Sarjubai’s husband Santosh (20).

So scarce is water that the 400-odd people residing in Shemba village have to trudge down a rocky terrain for a kilometer to access the two nearest hand pumps. “Children suffer the most during a drought. While getting basic nourishment for them is a problem, they also have to run around for basic resources,” said an anganwadi teacher.

With inadequate healthcare facilities and anganwadis remaining shut for most of the summer months, villagers in the Sangrampur taluka watch helplessly as children wilt away due to malnutrition. Shemba alone has 40 malnourished children. Of the two anganwadis in the village, the one run by the zilla parishad is closed most of the time, said residents. The second, run by the Gajanan Maharaj Trust, is doing its bit by distributing food.

The Sangrampur taluka comprises 105 villages and has 3.25 lakh residents. Of these, 15,000 live below the poverty line. While the entire region is plagued by malnutrition, 18 tribal villages are worst hit.

In 2011, 23 child deaths were recorded in the taluka and activists claim this is a deflated figure. According to the data available with the child development care department, 18% or 2,567 children of the total 14,905 in the region suffer from moderate or severe malnutrition, which means they don’t weigh as much as they should in keeping with their age. Technically, 308 children suffer from moderate acute malnutrition and 28 from severe acute malnutrition (their weight does not correspond to height). This despite the fact that there are 173 anganwadis in the region to “cater to the needs” of the children.

Villagers and activists said they don’t remember a single primary healthcare worker visiting the region or balanced died being served to children in the recent past. “Although drought has been declared here, no efforts are being made to ease the situation. Critical patients have to be taken either to the government hospital in Akola which is 85 km away or Shegaon which is 60 km away,” said activist Kailash Khadse.

An integrated child development services official said, “We provide a balanced diet to children. Often, it is because people in these areas are uneducated that problems arise.”