“Some of these villages are in the very interior and one has to climb up and down 2-3 mountains to get to villages like Sisphas, Tentulipodar, Kadlikal and Ghumlimadi. We usually go prepared with 2 bottles of water in summer and to stay the night in the village”, explains GPF Labhanya while describing his villages. As he speaks of these interior villages, their experience at Tentulipodar village is something he remembers vividly. Tentulipodar is a Pengu adivasi village in Kashipur block, it does not have any gram panchayat member, the ASHA does not visit and the Aaganwadi centre is also far away and hardly any government official has ever visited the village. The people mainly consume finger millet and rice and sell some of their produce like pigeon pea, millets, green gram and products like incense sticks in the Sunday market for which they leave on a Saturday morning and return by Monday evening or Tuesday.
GPF Labhanya and GPF Radhamohan visiting Tentullipodar village in Kashipur Block to facilitate a meeting found only closed doors, suspicion and hostility against them. Since the village is deep in forest they could not return in the evening and decided that they would stay the night and do their best to convince the villagers. They recollect how everyone closed their doors and did not entertain them. They managed to speak to some elders by late evening but could not manage a meeting with women in the village. The situation seemed quite grim but they decided to not give up and made a resolve that they would find another way to have a dialogue with the villagers and spoke to their Block co-ordinator Basant as well. Staying in a hostile village with whatever little was offered Labhanya and Basant, who joined them soon, felt helpless and tried to think of different ways of gaining one opportunity to talk to the community in order to build trust.
With a lot of hope and anxiety they went to the nearby villages to speak to the community about their work on malnutrition and health of women and children. They decided to visit Malam village and thought if they managed to convince the villagers with the ideas discussed in the PLA-LANN meetings then Malam villagers could help them convince Tentulipodar villagers as well. However, the Jhadiya community in Malam spoke a different language than the Pengu adivasis and they were not friends. Another day gone, with hardly any interaction with the communities made them restless but they had to find a way out. Labhanya and Basant went to Kadlikal which was another nearby village of the Paiko community, one of the OBC groups who have been staying with adivasis for a long time. To their joy and relief the Paiko community had a friendly relation with Pengu adivasis as they shared the same forest land to collect their food and their paths to the forests were the same.
This relationship between the two communities gave the GPF and BC some hope and a possible strategy to manage an initial interaction with the community in Tentullipodar. Having done their meeting in Kadlikal in the afternoon and fairly convincing the village folk about malnutrition and how the village can solve its own problem, they asked help of one of the Paiko men to accompany them to Tentulipodar. That evening they reached Tentulipodar and their Paiko friend told them, “These men have travelled so far to tell us something important to help our women and children and listening to them might help us. Let us give them a chance! They will not take away anything from us.” The next day by evening 5pm, men, women and children opened their doors and agreed to have a meeting with Labhanya and Basant. Thus two days of sleepless nights in a hostile village finally felt rewarding! But this was only the beginning.
A poster of the Malnutrition cycle was pasted in the village and a discussion emerged around it. Since ASHA or AWW had not come to the village they did not know about ICDS provisions. It was later revealed that the records for the village were written by themselves without visiting the village or by their husbands who went to the village on their bikes to fill the surveys sometimes. The GPF and BC thought that the ICDS provisions can help in improving the nutritional status of women and children and worked out an arrangement along with the village volunteers and the AWW where they could collect the ICDS provisions for women and children when they came to the market to sell their produce and take it to their village. By this way it became convenient for both villagers and the AWW.
However, the problem of ICDS provisions does not get solved by mere collection. These supplies were not consumed by women. On asking why they did not wish to consume IFA tablets, one of the Pengu adivasi women said, “We have lived all along without these medicines and our kids have grown up fine! For what do we eat these? “ An important, intelligent and yet such a basic question from the women made the GPF and BC understand that one has to have a valid and sensible reasoning while providing services because people have their own ways of living and knowing that has helped them survive and thus while introducing new things, an open dialogue is important. The next time they visited the villages, they were accompanied by the AWW and her husband who weighed the children in the village and explained that these supplements are additional nutrients that sometimes our foods may not provide us. Some of the children in the village were in yellow zone according to the MUAC tape which means they were at risk of malnutrition. When the details were explained to the women they felt more confident about the ICDS provisions and agreed to consume them. Gradually meetings on nutrition gardens were also facilitated once the people began to trust the GPF.
Adivasi communities have lived for long and have developed their own ways of being and living. In order to introduce new ideas it is important that their knowledge is respected. In Tentullipodar, we see that women made their decisions after being completely aware about what they were asked to consume and who were these men trying to do meetings in their village. It is only by building trust and respecting the agency and dignity of the community were Labhanya and Basant able to interact with the communities and begin working on improving health of women and children.