The monsoon rain beats a steady hum outside the small, damp hut in this tribal village, nestled among lush green trees in Jharkhand’s Godda district. Rain water trickles through the weak roof, creating puddles on the floor.
But Sampu Malto has long forgotten to even look and take notice. Earlier this year, the world came crashing down around Sampu when his wife Sunita, just 23 years of age, died while delivering their first child. The baby too did not survive.
Sampu points to a small wooden bed he had lovingly made for his child, what would have been a proud father’s first gift to his baby.
“We survived on a single meal every day. She was very weak..I couldn’t provide her enough food,” says Sampu, fighting to hold back his tears.
Sampu belongs to a vulnerable tribal group whose numbers are less than 21,000 out of Jharkhand’s 3.29-crore population.
In Kalajhor, the basic necessities of life eludes the likes of Sampu and other tribal groups which inhabit the area, around 400km from capital Ranchi.
Doctors said that not only was Sunita under-nourished but was also severely anaemic, a condition where blood lacks healthy red cells or haemoglobin.
It is a condition which afflicts nearly all the women in the state’s tribal belts. Death too is common here. In Mohanpur, a village not very far from Kalajhor, Aachal Murmu passed away at the age of 20, due to excessive bleeding at a local health centre. The, baby, however, survived.
A local health worker Rita Soren said that Aachal was highly anaemic and did not survive the Cesarean section. One of India’s most backward districts, Godda has seen mothers fall prey to nutritional deficiency and anaemia – the result of onetime meals in families which survive on monthly incomes as low as Rs 800-Rs 900.
The National Family Health Survey-3 shows that 47.8% of the women in Jharkhand are underweight when they begin pregnancy. A survey in 2014 by the Jharkhand Social Welfare Department (JSWD) found that more than 55% women in pregnancy had a body mass index of less than 18.5, for a 5 feet woman less than 40kg.
“Anaemia is a fall-out of under nutrition. Jharkhand, especially in the Santhal Parganas, it is rampant. Iron deficiency has been a cause of pregnancy complications,” said Vinay Kumar Choubey, principal secretary of the social welfare department.
Balram Joe, advisor on food to the commissioner of Supreme Court said that subsidised food provided by the government is just supplementary.
“The main source of calorie is from daily platter. Due to poverty, here pregnant women just have rice-salt, rice-potatoes or on a lucky day, rice-dal,” Joe said.
The JSWD-Integrated Child Development Survey 2014 also shows that mothers received just 1,200-1,800 calories a day against the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard of 3,200 calories a day and the national average 2,099 calories or rural areas.
Sarfaraz, a field researcher with Ekjut, an NGO, said, “Vegetables are a good source of iron. But they are not a regular component of their platter leading to severe anaemia in the region” He added that iron folic acid tablets also don’t reach on time, leading to severe anaemic conditions.
Godda has one of the highest maternal mortality rates (MMR) at 318 per lakh live births as per the Annual Health Survey (AHS) 2012-13 or one mother dying every day, compared to the state’s average of 219 and the national average of 190.