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Health For All, A Far-Fetched Goal For Marginalised Communities Like Rajasthan’s Kalbelia

A large part of the Kalbelia tribe – a denotified, traditionally predominantly nomadic tribe from Rajasthan – is affected by little access to and awareness about basic facilities like healthcare

New Delhi: 19-year-old Suresh, a waste picker by profession, sorts through the waste with impaired vision. A lack of healthcare and access to protective gear, and little knowledge about his rights have cost him his left eye. In August last year, Suresh lost his left eye when a splinter injured it while he was helping his mother with the waste. Recalling the tragedy he says,

Earlier I used to work in the water supply business. That day I left work at 2 PM and came home. My mother had asked for some help – I was working on a car engine that we got as scrap. Everything was almost done; it is when I dropped the hammer in my hand on the ground, a small splinter flew up and hit me in the eye. It burnt a tiny hole in my left eye.

Also Read: Examining Access To Healthcare For Rajasthan’s Kalbelia Community

Suresh went to work the very next day, thinking everything is fine but soon his eye started to hurt. He adds,

I called my mother and asked her to send my younger brother to the hospital, to meet me there. The doctor told me that there was a cut inside my eye. I cannot see anything from my left eye.

Despite being disabled, Suresh goes to work every day since he is the sole breadwinner of the family. Suresh belongs to the Kalbelia tribe – a denotified, traditionally predominantly nomadic tribe from Rajasthan. A large part of the Kalbelia tribe is affected by little access to and awareness about basic facilities like healthcare.

Ganga’s situation is no better. She lives with her 70-year-old mother in a kutcha house, a typical makeshift tent just outside of Village Dholkipati in Udaipur. Ganga lost her leg in an accident at the age of 12. Sharing her plight, she says,

There is no work to do. What work will I be able to do? I use crutches. My mother has now grown old, she gets tired and starts panting when she walks. I get Rs. 750 in pension, and my mother received Rs 500. How far will that take us?

With the support from crutches, Ganga goes home to home to ask or beg for two square meals for herself and her mother.

India has one of the worst rates of child malnutrition in the world. The majority of the tribal population continues to suffer from acute malnutrition, due to unhygienic living conditions, lack of nutritious food, and resultant bouts of diarrhoea. With the Kalbelia community, an added challenge is their unwillingness to seek help.

Also Read: A Victim Of Poverty Herself, Ishrat Bano, An Anganwadi Worker In Jaipur Is Committed Towards Welfare Of Children In Her Area

Radha Megwal, ASHA Sahayogini, Department of Medical and Health, Government of Rajasthan says,

When children come to this center, the families do not put any trust in us. The parents do not trust our team with vaccinations. They fear their child will get a fever. Even when we visit them to explain what the medicine is, they feel the vaccination will bring on fever and pain. They won’t let us even come close. We literally have to drag them out of their homes to get them vaccinated.

Sapna, a mother of three – 6-year-old Namesh, 3-year-old Bhavesh and 8 months old Kundan – says that none of her children have a birth certificate, and like most children in the community, none of them go to school. She adds,

Our kids keep falling sick and we need to take them to the hospital. The area is very dirty to live in. There are mosquitoes that breed here, dirty water, garbage is all around and the children are exposed to dust and dirt. When we go to pick up waste, we have to leave them behind at home. They are often left hungry. There is nobody to look after them.

To ensure health for all, we need to address the concerns of vulnerable populations like tribal communities. Traditional and socio-cultural beliefs, along with a lack of understanding and trust in modern medicine make tribal communities reluctant to seek formal care. It is necessary to restructure and strengthen the public healthcare system keeping in mind the needs and aspirations of the tribal communities. Only their fullest participation can set us on the path of universal healthcare.

Also Read: Rajasthan Assembly Passes Right To Health Bill

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 – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) 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, fight malnutrition, 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 like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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