Delhi: The Siddis are the descendants of East Africa and were brought to India as slaves by colonial powers ages ago. They are primarily settled in the Gir Somnath district in close proximity to the Gir forest and the traces of their first settlement in India dates back around 500 years. The community is stigmatised and called habshi, a derogatory term used and has had difficulty in being fully embraced by the society.
As a part of Reckitt’s Reach Each Child Programme, an Ethnographic study was conducted in Gir Somnath and Bhavnagar districts of Gujarat in bid to understand the challenges faced by the community.
Here are the top highlights of the study conducted:
Insufficient Intake of Micronutrients
Siddi community being a muslim sub-sect follows diet diversity ranging from meat consumption, both poultry and seafood, on a daily basis. So, by default, mothers also have a diverse and balanced diet. However, due to religious beliefs, expecting mothers are not given non-vegetarian food from the third trimester reducing their intake of sufficient micronutrients.
Burden of Caring & Providing for Families
The study also highlighted that because the burden of continuously caring and providing for their families flatly falls on the women alone in the community their health gets compromised due to lack of ample rest to recover between pregnancies as they need to bounce back and resume work.
Anaemia & Non-absorption of Iron
Anaemia is one of the leading micronutrient deficiencies amongst Siddhi mothers and is often identified only during pregnancy when women visit health facilities and receive diagnostic care (Haemoglobin count) to track the health of their child. This is only made possible for those mothers who visit health facilities and not those who rely on home-based care. As many women do not physically exhibit symptoms of anaemia, it is not commonly identified, counselled for and escalated by frontline workers. Another issue is the rampant usage of tobacco, which hampers the absorption of micronutrients for mothers who do consume iron supplements.
Micronutrient Deficiencies & Delayed Achievement of Developmental Goals
Although Siddhi community children are perceived to be healthy by frontline workers, there is a high prevalence of severe and moderate malnutrition. These children do not exhibit the usual symptoms of malnutrition such as bloated belly, thin limbs, etc. rather, their bodies show micronutrient deficiencies, delayed achievement of development goals and congenital issues. These range from – delayed onset of motor functions such as walking, sitting up straight and late speech development. Children also have lighter hair, white skin patches and rough skin, pale eyes and discolored nails. Some children are born with heart diseases, speech defects.
Additionally, unsafe and hazardous environmental factors such as close proximity to garbage and poor sewage systems, open defecation around the house, low handwashing, oral feacal contamination, close habitation with animals such as rabbits within the house. This impacts the uptake of hygienic practices and healthy behaviours such as handwashing, thereby contributing to low nutrient absorption in children.
Hyperlocal Traditions For Mothers After Delivery
Women from the Siddi community follow a tradition right after childbirth called “Kann” . Items such as Ajwain, Haldi and Ashwagandha are wrapped up in a funnel shaped piece of cloth and inserted inside the woman’s vagina to improve lactation, remove impure blood, prevent stomach ache and backache. However, this practice is strictly prohibited by doctors as it causes severe infections post-delivery. Mothers also use a hot stone or brick wrapped in a piece of cloth and place it over their stomach while keeping their legs in a cross over position to get rid of the pregnancy belly.
Breastfeeding Practices – Another Cause Of Worry
Colostrum milk is often washed away and mothers are not aware of the benefits of the colostrum milk. Jaggery mixed with water is given to the child immediately after birth. In case of home delivery, child is given this mixture for the first 2-3 days. Exclusive breastfeeding is practiced only for 3-4 months during which child is fed only 4-5 times a day. Working mothers resume work after 3 months post-delivery leaving goat milk for the child at home. Once complementary feeding is initiated, breastfeeding is reduced to twice a day.
Recommendations For A Healthy Future
Cleanliness and Hygiene Practices
Building an awareness around the importance of cleanliness and hygiene practices is important with the community through the following initiatives:
- Creation of dumpyard, waste bins in neighbourhoods for streamlined disposal of waste that should be cleared frequently
- Building sensitisation and awareness around the impact of waste dumps in neighbourhoods through women clusters
- Counsel families to dispose off human excreta in pre-designated spots of garbage dumps
- Regulation of water supply and nudging communities to safely store drinking and bathing water
- Counsel children about good hand washing and hygiene practices, especially in families where mother goes to work leaving older children with the responsibility of feeding and taking care of infant and younger children.
- Cleanliness drives to be carried out calling community members also to participate in the drives to clean the surroundings like Dargah, Schools and Neighbourhood environment. Hygiene education will inspire the community to be instrumental in managing waste and changing the collective behaviour.
A Special Care For High-Risk Pregnancy
- Conduct regular screening of newly married women before conception and starting of early interventions to counter malnutrition, anaemia etc
- Creating awareness among young and potential married couples to stop consumption of alcohol , tobacco and smoking prior to the family planning
- Generating awareness regarding the choice of contraception, birth spacing and miscarriage to avoid complications during pregnancy
- Capturing and following the pregnancy journey right before 8 weeks (early first trimester) of the pregnancy
About the Author: Ravi Bhatnagar, Director-External Affairs and Partnerships, Reckitt – South Asia and Dr Komal Goswami is a Chief of Party, PLAN India
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – theLGBTQ population,indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fightmalnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health,adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.