In Rajasthan, women of Sahariya tribe victims of apathy, ignorance

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Baran (Rajasthan), Feb 24: With her eyes half open, an extremely anemic Dhanno is lying nearly unconscious on a hospital bed. Her hemoglobin level has plummeted to 2.5 which is far below the normal 12 to 15 count.

"She is not ready to be taken to the district hospital where better treatment is available," a doctor at the Community Health Centre in Baran, some 280 km from Rajasthan capital Jaipur, told this visiting IANS correspondent.

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How so?

"That's how Sahariya women are. They are ignorant. And their husbands, most of whom are alcholics, couldn't care less," the doctor shrugged.

The Sahariya tribe is the most backward of the desert state whose members, especially the women, have lived a life of penury and neglect.

This IANS correspondent visited several villages in Baran district, which has about 125,000 Sahariyas, who came into the limelight after a string of starvation deaths in 2002.

Nearly every Sahariya women IANS met looked anaemic and malnourished. Many claimed their contemporaries lost their lives during labour.

Kamli Bai of Kariria village was one such who died in November 2013 in the Primary Health Centre on the day of her delivery.

"She was already weak and crying in pain. She was not attended for two hours. And finally she died," Mukesh, her distraught brother-in-law, told IANS.

"The medical report said she died due to blood loss. But it was doctors' negligence which claimed her life," he added.

Until a couple of years ago, Sahariyas worked as halis (a regional term for bonded labour) in the fields of rich farmers. NGOs claim some still work as hali.

Kamla, who seems to be in her 40s, was freed only after government intervention.

"My family and I would work for almost 15 hours every day in the field. In lieu of it, we would get 20 kg wheat flour," Kamla told IANS.

"Though the government has brought us out of slavery, they need to rehabilitate us. Sometimes it's difficult for us to get ration," she added.

"Almost every woman of this tribe is anaemic. It's natural in their case since they work during their pregnancy," a doctor at the Community Health Centre in Kishanganj block of Baran district, told IANS.

"They are forced to work as their husbands waste money on alcohol," he added.

A senior doctor who has worked in the region since 1994 says government health centres are in bad shape.

"Anganwadis are in poor condition. Many don't function for months. They are also not monitored," he added.

Anganwadis cater to children in the 0-6 age group and provide outreach services to poor families in need of immunization and healthy food.

"In fact, officials who come from Jaipur are aware of this but nothing happens" the doctor added.

Firoze Khan, a local journalist who has extensively reported on the tribe, said that the Sahariyas are also to be blamed for their plight.

"They don't reach hospitals till their condition becomes serious. They are ignorant and utterly careless. This is because they are illiterate," Khan told IANS.

Alcohol addiction among Sahariya men is also a problem, he added.

"Sahariyas don't much care about their lives as they have seen so much that they have become numb," Khan said.

IANS

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