Friday, 2 July 2010

Lest The Kalinga Of Today Be Forgotten...

“I too need to buy a camera,” said that man of 40, when he saw me taking photographs around the village in Chandia. I told him that he would have to learn how to use it, and that i could teach him a thing or two. He insisted upon seeing the photographs I had taken. Satisfied with my meagre photography skills, he shocked me with his question, “How many pixels?” I replied, and asked him where did he learn about pixels. “On TV, when they show that they will give discounts if I order. A neighbour has Tata Sky at home. That is when I saw it,” he replied. Quite an irony that one of Tata's products has given this man a new view of the world, while he struggles daily against the same company's atrocious ways to grab their land in Kalinganagar.

“What will you do with the camera?” I ask.

“I need to take photographs of our villagers. With every protest in every corner of Kalinganagar, we are losing are kin. I need to take their photographs before they are all gone. But tell me, can we take a video from this camera? Suppose the goons attack us – will we be able to shoot everything and show it later to the others?” 

I saw in him the desperation to keep intact the memories of his brethren. An hour later, he was satisfied with all that I taught him about the use of camera. I grabbed this chance to ask him in return about how the bow and arrow was made. He seemed to be more than pleased to teach me.

Both the bow and the arrow are made of cane, and the tribals go hunting into the jungle to pick up the best of the plants. The tip of the arrows are made of iron, and some families have specialised in the art of making these. They used to be available for Rs 5 a piece. But, just like the way a war is profitable for any government, the blacksmiths are also charging up to Rs 30 for every piece of arrow tip that is made. The other end of the arrow has feathers tied. This, I was told, gives the arrow a spin when it is let loose from the bow. The arrow continues to spin when it hits a target, thus making a perfect hole. Without the feathers, the arrow would just slide in the air and would cut through the target like a smooth knife. Ironically, the soft and light feather is what makes the arrow so effective. 

Jungle warfare

Both the iron tip and the feathers are fastened onto the cane stick with the strands of tussar silk, directly from the silkworm. The worm's egg is slit in a particular way so that the strands emerged are flat and long. There is no doubt in the quality and strengths of silk, and no one knows it better than these warriors. They have stocked up their homes with dozens of arrows, yet they are waiting for their anger to brim to a level when they can use their ancient tools against the rubber bullets, the steel bullets and the INSAS rifles.

One family which wishes to have used their tools of ancient warfare is the Kalundia family from Gadhpur village, about 3 kms away from Chandia. I walk to their village across the Common Corridor, and find the men on their fields. They want to make the best of the days before it rains, and before their land is levelled. Nobody knows the essence of making the best of now better than this family.

Panjabi Kalundia (45) lives with his brother Debendra (40), along with their respective families. Both borhters share the same grief, which can be dated back to May 9, 2005. It is tough to ask a man of the death of his child; it is easier to ask a woman about strength and hope. Maharashtra Seamless was another steel company which had earmarked 1,500 acres of land for a steel plant. Among those resisting the land grab was this family. They were accustomed to the police coming every morning, surrounding the villages to terrorise the people, and leaving by noon time. That had become a routine for sometime and the villagers managed to do their daily work at home and on the fields accordingly.

But May 9, 2005, was different, for it was the day of the bhoomi pujan of Maharashtra Seamless. The cops surrounded the village of Gadhpur once again, while in another part of the Kalinganagar, some villagers were opposing the bhoomi pujan as their land too was to be lost. 

“Around 9 am, I was at home with my elder son who was just able to walk then. He is seven years old today. My younger daughter Jima was just a baby and was asleep on the cot. My wife had gone to the village handpump to get water. Suddenly we heard that the cops had come, and that they were with guns this time. We ran towards the Mahagiri hills behind our village. I ran with my son,” said Panjabi. About 100 families reside in Gadhpur and that day, all of them were scattered in the hills.

“I thought that the cops would go back soon and so I too ran for my life into the hills. I remembered that Jima was at home, along with Rahul, my brother-in-law Debendra's son. Rahul was younger than my son but elder to Jima. But I knew that we would be back soon. But that 'soon' turned out to be two whole days,” Panjabi's wife Sumi (30) told me in broken Hindi and Oriya.

But the cops hadn't left the village, was what they had heard. Without food or water, the men and women of the village survived through the ordeal, without knowing where their family members were. Two days later, someone informed that the cops had finally left. Sumi was the first to have reached home. She saw Jima lying on the cot, and Rahul on the floor. Both were dead. 

“It was the summer and the hunger must have been unbearable. We never thought that we would be away for so long. I reached after my wife to see her wailing. The two children died of hunger and thirst. Without bullets or any firing, Maharashtra Seamless killed our children,” said Panjabi, as we sat on the cairn near his fields. Panjabi has two more children today after the death of Jima, while his son Debendra – whom I could not meet – also has two children. Needless to say, Sumi was continuously caressing her toddler in her arms as we spoke.

Sumi clutches her toddler – not a single moment can the child be away from her sight

In all, fives lives were lost during the protest on May 9, 2005. the company faced much flak and left the area. The 1,500 acres land to be acquired by them has now gone into the hands of Tata. “We lost our children to Maharashtra Seamless. Now we have lost 13 acres of our land to Tata's project, leaving us with just two acres. We have not got a single penny. What more do these companies want to steal from us?” asked an angry Panjabi.

Before I left them, I asked if they had a photograph of the two children. “We don't even know how old they were! We have only given you the rough estimates of our own age. We are poor people. How would we have photographed them?” I realise I had asked an inane question.

The same stories, everywhere. Stories of loss of life, loss of land, loss of dignity – among those resisting the repression, as well as those living in the transit camps, who had given their land out and had accepted a rehab package. 

The main transit camp was on a highway, and similar to the huge green signboard that welcomes every visitor to Kalinganagar, a huge board read out, 'Welcome to Gobarghati Transit Camps'. I was told to go there only on the last day of my stay in Kalinganagar, lest I was hauled and prevented from further moving around. I rode on the bike with journalist RR, and 500 metres into the camp lay a bright orange two-storey building onto the left. A signboard read out that it was a computer institute. Welcome to the land of lies. Another 500 metres into the area, and across the barren land around were those buildings.

The structures reminded me of the chawls in Mumbai – rooms stuck together, and the facade decorated with several clotheslines. But we didn't stop by – RR said that the young boys sitting at the entrance were not mere youths whiling off their time, but were posted there as security men. They were keeping a tab on every person entering and exiting the area. I could well estimate that the rooms alloted to the people were very tiny, with a small verandah to walk around. The structure was more like a village school – the classrooms were the tiny houses, the beams supporting the asbestos sheet as the roof marked the separation between the houses, the doors painted bright blue. In the small courtyard outside was a slide for children in the little open space, as well as monkey bars – akin to giving a Grade IV malnourished child a McDonald's burger instead of the basic food for survival. 

We crossed the transit camp and as I looked back, I could not help but think of the confinement that these people were subject to. No land to farm, a tiny house and a meagre sum of compensation to live on – this was far from what a self-sufficient tribal would ever have a nightmare of. Yet, this was a reality for several families who were lured with the prospects of good jobs.

We rode into the camp meant for those displaced by Nilachal Ispat Nigam Ltd (NINL). We meet Dubi Munda (60), who was once a resident of Nuagaon village. NINL was the first company to have set up a steel plant in the villages of Nuagaon and Madhavpur, and it displaced 613 families. Munda's fate was determined by both NINL and MESCO – his house came under the land acquired by NINL, while his farm land of 18 goonth (25 goonths make an acre) was acquired by MESCO. He received a total of Rs 37,000 for his farm land, but wasn't expecting any amount for the loss of his house. The January 2, 2006, firing was an unexpected boon. He explained:

“In 1997, although we did not want to give up our house, it was razed down. Nilachal gave us Rs 11,000 and told us that a piece of land was waiting for us here in Gobarghati, while we would also get a job. We were brought here, which is just 2.5 goonth in area. We erected the house on our own, with hay for the roof and mud for the walls. But there was no land to farm, for a survival. I somehow pulled through by taking up contract labour jobs here and there,” said Dubi.

When the January 2006 firing took place, the family received Rs 1.5 lakh for the construction of their house. “We would ask them several times about the promised job, but they kept on dilly-dallying it. When the firing in January 2006 took place, we were told that we were entitled to receive Rs 2 lakh, but Rs 50,000 was deducted because for using this land. I was smart enough to have this place named after my second daughter Chando, so that she can get the job for a longer period,” Dubi said. 

We calculated the price of the land – going by the price of Rs 50,000 for 2.5 goonth, the family should have received Rs 3,60,000 for their 18 goonth of land, instead of Rs 37,000 that they got. We told this to Dubi and he just laughed it off. There was little he could do anything about it now. 

Of his three married daughters, Chando lives with husband and toddler, along with her parents. I ask her about the job, and the description is another practical joke. “Again, it was the firing that got me the job in 2007, for they feared that we too might protest. I got the job of a gardener for which I underwent training for two years. I was initially paid Rs 1,500, but now I get Rs 14,000. But it is no great sum – we do not have lands to farm and hence we have to buy everything from the market today. Earlier, all we had to buy was just cooking oil and salt. We have lost a lot,” Chando said. What kind of garden needs to be tended by a gardener with training for two years?!

A mud house, a concrete house, but none to be called 'home'

The family has now erected a concrete house within that small area, but it is far from completion. The Ra 1.5 lakh has long been exhausted. They family does get water and electricity at random. I asked Chando about any facilities that she gets, thanks to her job. “A family of six members are entitled to medical benefits in Bhubaneshwar, but if we do not claim the medical allowance of a total of Rs 4,000 within six months, we will lose it. And that means no medical benefit thereafter. So it is akin to no benefit at all,” she said with a smile, understanding the trap that she had fallen into.

We take leave and then Dubi says slowly, “We were initially excited about this new idea of development, thanks to the steel plants. We were told to dream about jobs, education for our children, medical facilities and electricity. But for 10 years until the January 2006 firing, I had to think daily about the next meal. Even now, if Chando doesn't go to work for about two days, we are all worried that she will lose the job. We have lost our land; we have lost our peace of mind.”

Peace in pieces. This is the story of every household in Kalinganagar. I leave the place from the highway, and on my way in Ambagadia – just like the tribals – I bow my head before the 15 edifices erected for the 15 people who lost their lives on January 2, 2006. While 12 of them died immediately, three others succumbed to their injuries later. Among the 15 martyrs were three brave women.
  1. Mukuta Dei Bankira of Chandia village
  2. Aati Jamunda of Chandia village
  3. Ramchandra Jamunda of Champakoyla village
  4. Diyugi Tiriya of Champakoyla village
  5. Sudam Barla of Bellahori village
  6. Bhagwan Soy of Gobarghati village
  7. Landu Jarika of Bamiagoth village
  8. Gobind Lagori of Bamiagoth village
  9. Janga Jarika of Bamiagoth village
  10. Ramlal Mundoya of Baligot village
  11. Ramo Gagarai of Gadhpur village
  12. Bona Badara of Gadhpur village
  13. Shyamo Gagarai of Chandia village (succumbed to his injuries after a month)
  14. Kisan Buriuli of Chandia village (succumbed to his injuries after six months)
  15. Bir Singh Gop of Chandia village (succumbed to gangrene on both thighs after a year; he had lost both legs in the landmine blast)

The fountainhead of strength, courage and hope

I learnt from Rabi Jarika that people who die a natural death are buried in the premises of the house, and it is believed that the souls of the deceased will guide the rest of the family. So almost every courtyard in Kalinganagar had a tombstone. However, those who lose their lives in an unnatural way – like the 15 killed in the firing – are cremated, as it is believed that burying them will lead to rest of the generations also dying an unnatural death. The tombstones of the 15 at Ambagadia, nevertheless, have guided this revolution in Kalinganagar. It guides those who fight each day while being under the 'house arrest' in their own villages; it guides those who have been arrested on various false charges – ranging from arson to murder. Some of those arrested in the recent past, from villages around Chandia, include:
  1. Chakradhar Haibru Junior from Ambagadia village
  2. Nanika Jamunda from Ambagadia village
  3. Suresh Haibru from Bellahori village
  4. Jogendra Jamunda from Chandia village
  5. Devendra Jarika from Chandia village
  6. Birsa Tamsoi from Chandia village
  7. Kunja Gagarai from Gadhpur village
  8. Budhansingh Jamunda from Gadhpur village
  9. Pakoi Gagarai from Gadhpur village
  10. Paresh Gagarai from Gadhpur village
  11. Babula Soren from Baidubori village
  12. Babuli Deogam from Baidubori village
  13. Madan Kalundia from Baligot village
  14. Konai Purty from Masakhiya village
  15. Majura Purty from Masakhiya village
  16. Turan Purty from Masakhiya village
  17. Biren Hembram from Masakhiya village
  18. Pratap Chola from Masakhiya village

Would they just be a list of names to be forgotten? Would they just be names of dacoits as would be propagated by the corporates? Would they just be names of revolutionaries? Would they be just be one of us, fighting like any of us would have?

Seeking divine intervention

No Doctor, No Medicines: Only God Can Save In Kalinganagar

The Hoo tribals in Kalinganagar are akin to David facing Goliath – as they resist the goons, the state machinery, the corporate giants, a local media hell-bent on branding them as Maoists, and a national shy of reporting their struggle. Yet, these men and women fight. However, there is one sceptre they are just unable to put up a resistance against – ill health, and the consequential death. A bored villager surveyed 15 villages and found out that in the last six years alone, 188 people had died due to various illnesses. This number excludes death due to aging and those killed in the ongoing repression; the 188 deaths are of people below the age of 45. 

In the last six months alone, 14 people from just about three villages have died since there was no medical aid to reach them, neither were they allowed to leave the area. And the illnesses are not lifestyle diseases – malaria, jaundice, tuberculosis, fever have been the culprits. Or at other times, several other illnesses piled together. I headed to Baligot village to track two such deaths.

Ghanshyam Kalundia (35) died on April 16 this year. He was ill since three years – the illness began with joint and back pains. Sometime in 2009, he was taken to Cuttack for treatment by his younger brother Madan, where he was treated for 20 days. But fate had other plans for his wife Mecho, 30, who narrated her tale to me. 

“We were a joint family – our family, as well as the families of my husband's two brothers. The wives of both his brothers abandoned the family, leaving behind three more children. My brother-in-law Madan was arrested on September 14, 2009, on charges of attempt to murder for the firing that had taken place on January 2, 2006. He was to be released on bail in March this year, but soon enough, charges of arson were slapped against him, for the same incident. By then, my husband's condition had deteriorated. I managed to contact some of my relatives in a distant village and then stealthily took my husband on the bike to Cuttack. That's when the doctor said that he wouldn't survive too long, as he was suffering from T.B., kidney failure and jaundice. We spent almost Rs 50,000 in the last three years to get him treated, but had made only two visits to Cuttack. I am the only person in the house now, taking care of five children. I cannot even go to the fields leaving them – that we have lost a considerable amount of our land to the steel plants is a another story,” Mecho sighed.

Mecho Kalundia sits at home with her two children, who no more go to school

Two days prior to his death, Ghanshyam had stopped eating and talking, and was only vomitting. Mecho saw that it wouldn't take too long for her to become a widow. Today, she whiles her time in her neighbour's houses.

Further down the road is where 40-year-old Bireng Kalundia now lives with her five children – two boys aged 22 and 20, and three girls aged 18, 15 and 12. Her husband Sikander (46) was ill for a month before he died on April 9 this year. Before the repression was further tightened following the March 30, 2010 – when the tribals opposed the construction of the Common Corridor project – two relatives managed to take Sikander on a bike to a certain point on the highway, from where they hired a car to Cuttack. “Those two relatives were employees at the Jindal Steel Plant and hence they could not stay back with my husband even when the doctor insisted that he should be admitted. My sons could not even go to Cuttack as the roads were blocked; the Common Corridor is very close to this village and my sons could have been easily nabbed if they had attempted to get out of here. There was no way that I could go and be with him. They hence brought back my husband,” explained Bireng to me, through her brother-in-law Dabar, who translated her slow, halted words to me.

Bireng added that if there was someone who could have stayed back in Cuttack with her husband, he could have been saved. Their house is huge, thanks to a larger family. Her daughters shy away upon seeing me. I ask Bireng about her sons. “One of my sons had a job at the steel plant of Rohit Ferro-Tech. But since we all were a part of the protest on March 30, he was fired from the job. Today, there is no earning member in the house. We have also lost an acre of our land to the Common Corridor. There has been no sign of any compensation for it. I only have some yield from the farm. Thanks to levelling, I don't understand what will happen to us,” sighed Bireng. 

I take leave of her and utter a few words in Hoo language, to convey that she ought to be strong. She smiled back, and let out a litany of words, no more in the demure way that she talking. “This is our struggle and we will continue our fight, come what may.”

There is a whiff of strength behind the calm and sad exterior of Bireng Kalundia

As I left her house, I saw several young children lined out on the tiny patch of road, playing. Some were chasing a bicycle tyre, some were lifting worms with sticks from a pond formed thanks to the rains, some others up on the trees. I asked Dabar about the presence of a school in the village. His answer was not a short one.

“About 10 years ago, I had begun to teach some children in my own courtyard. Later, some youths from the village erected a mud house and taught the children. Two years had passed and we appealed to the authorities to send in a teacher. One was sent in, and later another. By 2007, we collected Rs 2.5 lakh from the 100 families in this village and erected a concrete structure for a school of 120 children. But the children never returned to school after the summer vacation in 2007. Neither did the teachers turn up. When our Sarpanch enquired, he was told that since all the families in this village had left the village after having accepted the rehab package by Tata for its steel plant on their land, there isn't anybody residing in the village anymore. So the teacher stopped coming. On April 29 this year, the school building we had erected was razed down by the police and the goons. We were a village of 100 families; now the figure is 80. The 20 families who have taken the rehab package from Tata are killing their own kin in various ways – they have razed down the school, they do not let the sick and ailing get treated, they are leveling our fields, and when we protest they do not shy away from using the gun which they have been forced and paid to carry,” explained Dabar. 

The children leave behind their games with stones and sticks, and are delighted to see the camera

Here are the names of the 14 deceased in the last six months. This list is not comprehensive; it is only from few of the nine villages within Chandia panchayat. These nine villages are the ones affected directly by Tata. There are 18 villages in the panchayat, with a population of over 5,000 and 2,400 voters. Gobarghati is another panchayat. I got this data from Rabi Jarika, who noted these as and when he would get information about the deaths. This list is only indicative of the number of dead from all the villages across Kalinganagar.

  1. Leena Soy (60) from Bamiagotha village – died of fever
  2. Sudarshan Samad (32) from Chandia village – died of malaria
  3. Buduni Jamunda (20) from Chandia village – died of malaria
  4. Besi Jamunda (30) from Chandia village – died during delivery; the child died after birth
  5. Sidiu Jarika (28) from Bellahori village – died of malaria and typhoid
  6. Shmabari Jarika (40) from Kankrajhar village – died of malaria
  7. A three-year-old girl from Baligot village – died of malaria
  8. Bhandai Bankira (8) from Baligot village – died of malaria
  9. Sikander Kalundia (46) from Baligot village – died of T.B., malaria, jaundice, etc.
  10. Ghanshyam Kalundia (34) from Baligot village – died of T.B., malaria, jaundice, etc.
  11. Nakoi Deogam (38) from Baligot village – died of jaundice
  12. Ladu Kalundia (60) from Baligot village – cause of death is unknown
  13. Jemma Honnaga (37) from Chandia village – several ailments together
  14. Balema Goipai (57) from Gobarghati village – cause of death is unknown

But there surely had to be a medical centre. It was impossible that the government would not try to render a facade of governance. I am told that just 500 metres after the main gate of Kalinganagar was the Dhangadi Medical Centre. It had a huge concrete gate, painted white with some red carvings. I entered the huge complex; to the right was a space for the staff quarters. To the left was a medium-sized building. I entered and saw a torn bed, with an old woman lying on it. This was the supposed waiting area of the hospital. A younger man sat next to her; he said that she was suffering from diarrhoea. I walk near her bed – there was no bedsheet on the mattress, the lady slept with her legs crouched up to her chest, and tried to cover her whole body with her thin saree. A saline drip stood next to her bed. The syringe was left open: a fly sat on it while a Band-aid was stuck on it. 

Stench, grime, bugs: this medical had it all

Paan stains had coloured the corridors. I noticed an old man; somebody told me that he had fractured his leg but had nowhere to go. He lived in the premises of the hospital. I walked further through the gloomy, stinky corridor to see the ward. The coir was falling off through the torn mattresses; saline drips stood next to these empty beds. One journalist – whose stories about the struggle of the people of Kalinganagar were no more accepted by his newspaper, and had hence opened a photocopy store near the medical centre – told me that the medical centre was empty as no patient would visit there. “There are no doctors here. Just one medical in-charge, who sits in the OPD till 12 noon and doesn't wait a minute more even if there are patients lined outside. He runs to his private clinic which he operates from his quarters. He just holds a post-graduate degree in Medicine, but he handles all sorts of cases because there is no other doctor here. He will check a patient coming in, and will promptly refer him to Cuttack.”

I saw the game myself. I was visiting the medical centre after lunch and while strolling through, one man was brought in. I couldn't believe my eyes – all I saw was a skeleton covered with a thin layer of skin. The man was accompanied by his parents who were too old to hold their 35-year-old son. I learnt that they had come from nearby Jakhpura village, along with a cousin who was dressed rather well. I had seen images of malnutritioned children from Africa, but never anything like this. I stood by, looking at him. His eyes, cheekbones and jaws were popping out. His nails were black. Every joint in his body stood out from the thin vest that hung on his body. I could count his ribs. He yelled out that he stomach was paining. His mother laid out a rug and held her son gently to lay him down on it. His feet were swollen, and so was his stomach. The cousin told me that he had stopped eating since five days, but was ill since 6 months.

Will he survive?

The doctor rushed in and cold metal of the stethoscope hurt the patient. He was screaming; the doctor hit the stomach several times to gauge what was wrong. The next moment shook me – the doctor pulled the patient from his thin arms like he would yank a log of wood towards him. This young man of 35 yelled. After he was done with checking his respiration on his back with the stethoscope, the doctor let loose the man. His shoulder hit the hard mattress.

The doctor ruffled the medical papers that the cousin handed to him. He summoned the cousin and said that the patient should be taken to Cuttack. I later bumped into the doctor. He said, “Severe anaemia. Hypoglycemia. Renal failure. Jaundice. T.B.” I asked the cousin what was to be done next. “Five days ago, we gave up. We knew that death was near anytime now. But his parents insisted on bringing him here since he suddenly was having diarhoea.”

“So you will take him to Cuttack now?” I asked.

“I don't know if that would help. The doctor could administer some fluids to hydrate him, but he didn't. His parents still believe that their only son will be fine,” he said. I remember how the man's mother smiled back at me innocently when I was standing next to her son. 

I walked out with a heavy heart and headed to the administration office on the top floor. It was spartan clean. On the wall was a huge board mentioning the various 'health days'. There were about 30 dates; but none on malnutrition. I walked back down to the medical centre. I though I had seen enough, but more was to come.

A beautiful lie

I met Mena Mohanty who was an 'Asha Madam'. The Orissa state government had roped in midwives from villages to be Asha Madams who would be responsible for all the pregnant women in the village. She was responsible for bringing in the women in labour to medical centres. On doing so, she would receive Rs 250. “So you must be travelling to other villages too, to see if there are more pregnant women..” I ask Mena didi. She smiled widely to reveal her paan-stained teeth. “I am responsible only for the women in my village. In a year, there are just about 10 pregnancies. So I can earn only that much,” she replied. Mena didi said that she had been working as a midwife in her village since 30 years and was an expert in her work.

She was more than happy to show me the labour room. There were two steel tables for the women in labour to lie on. On one of its edge was a huge dirty bin, which I assumed was to let the blood flow out of the bleeding woman. Across the tables was a concrete slab and a basin. I walked up to it. On a kidney tray were several forceps and scissors. And a string, with a curved needle. I asked her what was it. “This is the needle and the string used to stitch up the vagina of the woman after the delivery.”

I was shocked that it lay in the open. “Aren't these instruments sterilised?” I asked.

Mena Mohanty shows me the labour room; the kidney tray is full of instruments which are far from clean, let alone sterilised

“Of course they are. Look at that machine for sterilising. When a woman comes in, and as she is prepared for labour, it is during that time that these instruments are sterilised. There is no point in sterilising them well in advance as there is no place to keep them clean.”

Just at that moment, a petite woman in labour walked in with two other women. I stepped out. She was somehow made to jump up onto the high table. She cried in pain. I stood in a corner with Mena didi. “That lady in the blue saree is the Asha Madam for that pregnant woman. This lady in red and white saree is the sweeper. She does most of the deliveries.” I looked at her in disbelief.

A nurse in a white saree walked in. She looked at me and I somehow managed to convince her to let me see the process of the birth of a child. Mena didi chipped in to say something in Oriya, after which the nurse relaxed a bit and they all laughed. Few minutes later, another tribal woman walked in with a packet full of small vials of liquids, gloves, sanitary napkins sold loose, syringes and IV administration sets. The entire pack costed Rs 500.

While the nurse injected some antibiotics into the saline, the sweeper inserted a pipe into the pregnant woman's vagina – she wore no gloves. Much liquid passed out. The nurse went away. Mena didi walked upto the patient – her name was Phula Mahakud was from Siyaria village, 1.5 km away – and showed her how to hold up her legs. Phula cried out. The other Asha Madam – who was much younger than Mena didi – just followed Mena didi's instructions. The sweeper called out to the woman accompanying the patient for some cloth. She passed on to her a moist rag stained with blood – I realised this was the cloth that must have been used during the menstrual cycle. The rag was slid under Phula behind, while she began to bleed slowly. Mena didi kept on urging her to pull her legs towards her chest. Phula cried on while she held the other Asha Madam's hand tight. Five minutes later, the head was visible. The nurse walked in languidly. She wore her gloves and an apron. Slowly she pulled out the child – it wasn't crying. The sweeper passed on a porcelain tray and the nurse kept the minute-old child on it with a thud. The child's eyes were shut but it was breathing. Phula's stomach had slumped down while she was breathing heavily. 

A new life

Meanwhile, the sweeper began to cut the umbilical cord in the middle. Blood splashed out in all directions, and my feet was covered with that red which had nourished the child for 9 months. Mena didi called me next to her, near the basin where she was washing her hands. There was no soap nearby. Before I could protest, she took one of the sanitary napkins and wiped the blood from my feet. I saw the child on that tray, who was being pumped by the nurse. All was not well. The nurse yelled at me to get out of the room as the doctor would be coming in. I thanked Mena didi and ran out. It was a weird feeling – amid the poverty, amid the loss of hope in the most unhygienic conditions, amid the lack of basic facilities, God's creation in the highest form was born. 

The doctor did not go into the labour room till a long time, but I later learnt that both the mother and child were doing fine and were sent home. I went Rabi's home that evening before sunset with a heavy heart. But the day was not to end so soon. I heard that a baby goat had died during the day. I went to see it inside the dark stable. Its face was very tiny but the stomach was huge. A small girl working at Rabi's house began to pull it. I stepped out immediately.

“Was it ill? How did it die?” I asked, trying to sound not too prying at such a time of grief.

But Rabi's sister-in-law only laughed. “Would you believe it – the goat ate hay all evening yesterday. By late night, it began to groan weirdly. We saw that its stomach was enlarged but how could we take it to the doctor? The night passed and late in the morning, it passed away.”

Sometime later, I saw that the goat was butchered and the meat ready for distribution, while a girl fanned off the insects that could crawl in with a branch of leaves. In a tub nearby lay the transparent bloated intestine. In the land of the poor and the hungry, a goat died of overeating. For a moment I felt we were in a 'developed' nation.

Glimpse of a developed country