February 1, 2010

Dasrath's Story, Part II: The Harshness of Village Life

For background, see Dasrath's Story, Part I: Initial Presentation and Surgery


Since writing Dasrath’s Story, Part I, I have visited Dasrath and Jhum Bai in Mangalpur, their forest village, and have interviewed Jhum Bai once again in Ganiyari at the JSS health center and hospital complex. Their story, like the road itself into the village, twists and turns, down narrow, rutted paths. But one conclusion is clear. In the end, their greatest suffering is the sense of helplessness to find a brighter future, free of the deprivations of poverty. Dasrath, perhaps, lives from day to day, seizure to seizure.  Jhum Bai, married close to the onset of puberty, six years later remains childless and faces the most bleak of all possible outcomes: abandonment.  This is the fate of perhaps the majority of childless, village women.  Let’s hope that I’ve got it all wrong.

The winding, dirt road to the Village of Mangalpu

Visit to Dasrath and Jhum Bai in Mangalpur Village
Mangalpur is a remote village of 28 families and 150 individuals. Most single family dwellings have but one room; few have tile roofs; all are constructed of mud and have dirt floors. None have latrines nor running water. The primary school is housed in a tiny one-room building adjacent to a newer facility that has never been finished. 

The unfinished village school house, center, and the temporary, inadequate school building at the far left.

Arriving at the village, active electioneering for the first panchayat (local governing body) election in sixty years was underway.

Entering the village, the panchayat election poster is prominently displayed.

Several hundred meters on, we came to another cluster of huts including Jhum Bai’s and Dasrath’s.

Jhum Bai stand in front of her home shared with her husband, Kunwar Singh, Dasrath and others.  

Our visit to Dasrath and Jhum Bai’s one-room hut was brief.  Her husband, Kunwar Singh, and JSS’s volunteer Senior Village Health Worker, Aghaniya Bai, were present.

Left to right: Jhum Bai, Aghaniya Bai, Kunwar Singh, and JSS Village staff specialist, Prafull

I presented Jhum Bai, with Aghaniya Bai as witness, Rs. 3,000, the balance required to pay off the moneylender and reclaim the family’s small plot of land on which a single crop of paddy is harvested each September. Earlier, I had gained clearance from Yogesh Jain and other physicians of JSS to provide such assistance. Thus, with a total donation of Rs. 5,000, or about $100, the family was able to regain their land on which they grow rice. Jhum Bai told us that Kunwar cried when he heard the news. (See Dasrath’s Story, Part I.)

The electrical connection, to provide illumination from a single bulb inside the home, had been out of order for several months.  Jhum Bai related that the leader of the panchayat demanded Rs.100 to get the responsible government official based in Kota, the block headquarters, to fix it. She could not pay. Hence it remains a useless relic.

The broken electrical connection, many months out-of-order

At night, the family depends on the dim light from a single bulb attached to the exterior of the hovel.  At times, a kerosine lantern is available. The battery of a torch, which sits on top of on of three bags of paddy, has long ago expired.

Bags of paddy from the September harvest, stored in the family's hut with the useless torch

 Three large sacks of paddy from the September harvest are stored in the room, only about one-third the normal yield due to the failure of monsoon rains in 2009.  The family plans to extract the seed for planting of their plot of land at the onset of the monsoon season in July.  Hence, there will be no rice from their own crop. The family itself depends on the government-subsidized rice purchased with ration cards but this only lasts for a portion of each month.

On the back wall of the hut hang everyone’s garments, mosquito nets, dried corn brought by Jhum Bai’s parents, who live 40 kms. away and, heaped on the floor, assorted light, threadbare blankets and ground coverings. Jhum Bai owns three saris. There are no beds.

The back wall of the hut with clothing.  Jhum Bai holding mosquito netting. Piled on the floor, flimsy blankets. Dried corn on upper right.

Soon, the family hopes to finish construction of a second room, adjacent. When completed, Jhum Bai, her husband and Dasrath will live there. The current hut will be converted into an animal keep for the family’s two remaining oxen and for storage.

The partial wall of the adjacent, new one-room home under construction. The current home will accommodate two oxen in the future.

Daily life 
We asked Jhum Bai to return to Ganiyari a day after the elections for further discussion. This is the story that emerged.

Life is unimaginably hard.  During these winter months, November – February, despite keeping a fire burning inside their hut at night, they shiver from the cold.  All garments available are not sufficient for protection. Sleep is fitful. Often, Jhum Bai, her husband and Dasrath awaken by 2 AM and sit around the fire to warm up before lying down once more, trying to sleep. They have no woolen clothes and only the thinnest of blankets.  I felt compelled to provide wool sweaters and blankets but colleagues advised the cold would penetrate even those.  I also brought Jhum Bai a food basket of sorts, including a few oranges.  Only once previously in her whole life had she ever eaten an orange.  

When in need, neighbors can’t be counted on. Nor can the government. The bore well, the source of drinking water near their home, has been out-of-order for a month. Two weeks ago, each villager paid Rs. 10 to the Panchayat but, since, there’s been no repair.

The government has failed to install any latrines in this or other villages in the forest preserve.

The government is now beginning to force villagers out of their homes to resettlement areas outside of the forest on the order of New Delhi. Four villages already have been moved and, as yet, the government has failed to provide amenities or compensation. A weak protest is growing against overwhelming odds. These villagers are mostly of the Baiga tribe, officially protected, but in fact scorned by officialdom as illiterate and too few in numbers to be taken seriously.

The roof leaks badly; the best solution, tile, is beyond their grasp.  Even a new sheet of heavy plastic, to be covered with leaves from the forest is unaffordable. Broken and old tiles hauled from another village may be used on the adjacent roof but the quantity and quality is grossly insufficient.  

For personal hygiene, washing up takes place at the bore well pump – when functioning.  But poverty dictates that soap be used only every other day.

No one in the family owns a bicycle.  Those seen in the photo belong to two of Kumar Singh’s cousins that live elsewhere.

My final question this day to Jhum Bai: "If you were granted three wishes, what would they be?" Without hesitation, she replied: "I would not have three wishes, only one, to have children." Her survival may depend on this wish coming true.

Final interview to follow: Jhum Bai's Dream


  1. How is Dasrath doing? Is he taking his anti-seizure meds and did he take the full course of his antibiotics? Would you know what meds specifically he was put on? I am curious if they were some generic meds and what the plan would be in future for him to get them.
    Sorry my questions are unrelated to the bigger questions of extreme poverty and death from it, but I am curious about them.


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