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Travelblog: Once in a lifetime voyage to the heart of India.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Stories from the field

We have conducted over 150 interviews of pregnant women. Most of their stories and answers were predictable. There are, however, two interviews that stand out. I’m aware these stories represent the extreme cases, but they highlight some important issues many women face. Both women share similar worlds, yet their stories couldn’t be more different. During the interview they both shed tears, but for very different reasons.

The first interview took place in the village of Churchura. She was our last interview for the morning. She walked in and sat down next to me, keeping her eyes on the floor. Most of the pregnant women are a little timid, but she bordered on hostile. She avoided all eye contact, looked very weak, and didn’t crack a smile for the entire interview. She was 8 months pregnant when we interviewed her and it was her second pregnancy. She lives alone with her husband, and the husband’s family lives in the same village.

Early in the interview we ask a hypothetical ‘what if’ question as an ice breaker/conversation starter. This question catches most of the women off guard, but they have fun with it. The answers are very standard, except for when the situation is unique. If there are special circumstances at home, this question will surely bring them to light.

As soon as we asked this woman the question her eyes started watering. She didn’t say anything for a really long time, but with some probing she revealed that there is no food in the home for her to cook. She usually has one meal a day, often made with vegetables acquired from neighbors. Her husband spends a large part of the family income on liquor and goes to his mother’s to have his meals. She complains of not having any energy yet she still fetches water, goes to the river to wash clothes and works in the field. She admitted that her husband used to beat her, but has stopped for the last 2 months. She hasn’t gone to her mother’s house for delivery like most women, because her husband and mother-in-law will not allow it. The last delivery took place at her mother’s and it resulted in a stillbirth. They are afraid it will happen again.

The health worker told us this woman’s hemoglobin was severely low, 6.5 mg/dl (>11 mg/dl is recommended during pregnancy), which explains her total lack of energy. The health worker explained that the husband’s family (particularly the mother-in-law) gives her problems because they have been unhappy with the dowry they received from her family.

We cut the interview short, sat and talked with her, but didn’t know what to do beyond that. There are no shelters to refer these women to. If the women leave their husband’s home, they often have no place to go. Sanjay and I returned and spoke with the people at the outpatient clinic. They advised us to return to the woman’s house and tell her to come to the SEARCH clinic with her mother-in-law or husband for a check-up. Dr. Rani Bang would advice his family to let her go to the mother’s or she could be admitted to the SEARCH hospital for delivery. We followed their advice, but don’t think she has come in to the clinic yet.

The second memorable interview took place a week later in the village of Indalla. She was interview number 74, and her name was Kavita Jankta. She was 21-years-old and also pregnant for the second time. Her first pregnancy was terminated early with an abortion. She lived with her husband and her in-laws. Kavita was also very timid, but she had a soft smile and didn’t hesitate in making some eye contact.

When we asked Kavita the hypothetical question, she smiled and said she wouldn’t do anything different, because she is living her ideal scenario. Sanjay and I were both startled. This was one response we hadn’t heard yet. Her family was slightly better off economically then most, but not significantly. By the end of the interview we had discovered her husband brings home her favorite foods, and encourages her to eat frequently, which surprisingly isn’t the norm. However, we both knew there was more to it. Her eating habits and patterns were very different then all the other women we had interviewed. Sanjay was as curious as I was so he kept probing without me having to ask. We told her what a unique case she was and that we were wondering what influences what she does. This is when she started tearing. She revealed that her husband eats all her meals with her (in most families, the males eat first and then the women eat), brings all her favorite vegetables, and if she is nauseous/vomiting and can’t eat then he doesn’t eat either. He encourages her to eat 4-5-6 times a day. Sanjay actually asked, “he really loves you a lot doesn’t he”. Poor girl totally blushed. :) But answered, “yes, he does and he is really good to me”.

We wondered if it was maybe because it was love marriage (rare even now), but it wasn’t. We got the husband's name and work address because we wanted to meet and interview this anomaly. We went to his work place, but he wasn’t around.

The special attention and treatment women get in the west during pregnancy from their husband’s is unfortunately reserved for the lucky few in rural India (at least the rural women we interviewed).


At 10:42 AM, Blogger Raj Kanani said...

Gargs, if you're still out in India... then email me.. rkanani@gmail.com. We're going to reach Mumbai on August 5th.


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