(Real stories from the grassroots. Names have been changed for confidentiality)
Shyamli braved the hot Delhi sun as she walked through the narrow lanes of Sultanpuri with a dupatta over her head. Something that not only protected her from the sun, but was a testimony to her married status, along with the sindoor on her forehead. She would face the closed door again, or even if it was open it would be shut at the first instance of her arrival by the elderly lady people called Ammaji . But she had to try…try hard to get the lady to open the door for her.
Shyamli had sensed something wrong in that house when a couple of days ago she had seen the face of the young girl who had appeared briefly, looked at her through the window and had dived out of sight just as fast. As though somebody had pulled her away from the window. There was something about the girl’s face that told her instincts, she was troubled. She wished the young couple on the ground floor, asked about their newborn, sat down for some time advising the lactating mother on her nutrition needs. Handing over a schedule for immunization, she advised her to get it done at the nearby primary healthcare center.
As she strode up the stairs, with a resolve that she would get the lady to open the door today. She stopped at the top of the rickety staircase surprised to see that Ammaji’s door was open. Squatting on the floor was the girl who had peeped out of the window! She looked just about 16-18 years of age, thin and undernourished.
She walked in and sat down beside her, and noticing that she was pregnant started speaking to her.
“How many months?” she enquired in Hindi
“Six” replied the girl sheepishly glancing at the door in fear.
“Did you take your Teeka (injection)” Shyamli asked
“Why? I am alright. I don’t need Teeka” she said.
Before Shyamli could react Ammaji had arrived commanding her to get up and get out, announcing she knew more about pregnancy and child birth than any doctor. Shyamli remained seated and replied “Lots to learn from you Ammaji. But do register your bahu at the primary care center so she can get immunizations free and it’s your grandchild who will benefit.
Long arguments, cajoling, convincing and imploring followed. Shyamli continued to calmly counter Ammajis arguments, firmly and politely.
Ammaji had calmed down now, convinced that Shyamli would not give up. She threw in her last argument.
“The Teeeka’s bring on fever, it does not prevent anything” she complained as she made Chai for her unwelcome guest. Shyamli followed into the kitchen explaining to her all the while why and how immunizations work, why advice on diet and nutrition, proper care are essential, how education on pre -natal and post-natal care which was provided free would help. She told her how healthy her kids were after she took the advice of NGO care worker herself.
Ammaji seemed to have mellowed down slightly, and asked doubtfully. “Bahu is just 18 now, and my son 30, I don’t want any trouble when I register for these services. You know people comment”. And that!… thought Shyamli was the reason behind the closed door.
Shyamli assured Ammaji that she would take the girl herself to avail of these facilities and ensure that she stayed with her through the whole trimester. After a lot of goading and convincing, cajoling and counselling the husband, which was a herculean task, she managed to get the desired medical help for the girl. A few months later yet another obstacle- convincing Ammaji and her son that girl or boy one must welcome a healthy baby. The Bahu finally delivered a healthy girl child. Well!…Ammaji dint seem very happy, but the little ceremony that Shyamli's colleagues at the NGO had put together helped. Ammaji had relented and her son was very fond of the little girl. Her Bahu was allowed to attend sessions on maternal and child health and the Centre now and was doing well. She visited the healthcare center herself to avail of the facilities.
Finally the closed door had opened!
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