Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Access to resources

Medical care and education in Jaunsar Bawar and markets in Chakrata

The Jaunsari community, a scheduled tribe recognized by the government, lives in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. The SIHI Group 2007 stayed at S.M.T.A. Hostel and worked with Dr. Sachin, Maggie Furtado, Belamji and Dhaneshwariji, two local health workers for S.M.T.A. in order to understand how these people in the mountains live. The terrain here is very difficult for travel and villages are located very far from one another. Immediately, we experienced the trouble locals have to endure to commute through a terrain mixed with hills, mountainous, rocky areas, and streams, with the added complement of immense heat in the summer and cold winds and ice in the winter. With this, we quickly learned that locals face many hardships in accessing resources in the area, including health care, education, and marketing among other things. At the Panchayat workshop hosted by S.M.T.A. on May 19 -20th, 2007, the concern of improper roads construction was brought up. Perhaps this is one of the few areas of improvement that is necessary to highlight, which will improve the setbacks of accessing medical care and education in the Jaunsar Baur as it is well deserved.

Education - Students

Students of primary and inter-college level have to travel long distances to gain education, if the respective educational institution is not located in their village. The villages we visited that had primary education were, Majgaon, Jakhadar, and Tumroli. The two inter-colleges we visited were in Quashi and Myrawana.

In Tumroli, we met Sanjay Singh, who was deaf and mute but was able to study until class 5 because his primary school was located in his village. He would like to continue further studies, but his disability discourages his parents to send him far from Tumroli. For Sanjay, his mother mentioned, there is a school located in Vikasnagar or Dehra Dun specific for students who have special needs. A resource exists at a far distance. However, there is no hostel facilities, meaning the family would have to relocate to Vikasnagar. This option is not feasible for them. He is very intelligent and has adapted well by completing fifth grade in his village primary school. His next option would be to go to Quashi, but this is too far, claims his family.

A young girl we met thrice named Neelam attends Myrawana inter-college, and walks to her home in Fediyana everyday. This is very common. In fact, we saw children from Jakhadar and near by area (including Tumroli) walk all the way to Quashi to seek education. Quashi intercollege does have student housing for rental. The teacher there told us that groups of girls from faraway villages live together in these houses for about 500 Rupees a month flat rate. In fact, a small girl we met in the Aryan family in Thanta lives in one of those housing complexes. Though options and alternatives have been made possible at this inter-college to make education accessible, it is still not feasible for many children. In a remote area like the Jaunsar Bawar, where literacy rates are lower than the national average, the limitations are still not being dealt with strongly enough.

In Fediyana, Julla Devi, a girl who grew up with cerebral palsy, was described by her father as being very intelligent. She did not ever attend school. Her father claims this was due to a lack of facilities that could aid in transporting her to an educational institution.

Besides access to education, students are not fully experiencing education in totality. The inter-college in Myrawana is a temporary building, which has yet not implemented the Science stream for students interested. This is in part due to a lack of laboratory facilities. In fact, we observed that the sports education needs work too. The field basketball poles had been raised, but had no nets or back board. Fortunately, the new inter-college is being built. The old building is speculated to be used as a teachers’ residence, a benefit to the local community.

Education – Teachers

Commuting in this region is not only difficult for students, but also for teachers. A good educational system requires for consistent attendance and capacity of teaching staff. The intercollege we visited in Bamrara village (name changed) luckily hired a female teacher, Ms. Kamla (name changed), almost three months back. This has been the first female teacher in this school’s history.

In Myrawana, all the teachers are male, a few of them living nearby to the school. This was convenient for them and their students. We asked if they see any issues that can arise in logistics with a female teacher at the school, as they too agreed that this was a void that they would be happy to have filled by the government.

They explained that teachers are assigned positions by the Education Board and female teachers are less likely to be placed in remote villages like this due to traveling distances and such logistics. Many female teachers may have families, and need to return home to them early and stay home more often. This results in increased absenteeism amongst female teachers, though this is a general trend seen in most education givers due to the fact that schools are located so remotely.

Health Care – Children’s Health Care

The father in Fediyana of the deceased girl with cerebral palsy said that there has been improvement in the area with respect to nurses giving polio vaccinations to newly born children. If his grandchildren were not given vaccinations, he would some how make arrangements to seek this medical care. What is most troubling is the traveling expenses that would result. So, would he really go?

In Senjaar, we spoke to Jeet Singh’s eldest son, who has a daughter with a disability. To take her to a hospital, he says, he has to a take a day off from farming. He handles his father’s fields as well, because he can no longer work due to his handicap. Losing a days wage is a great loss for this family, especially with the loans they have to pay back from the father’s treatments. In these communities, this scenario is common, resulting in diagnosis of treatable childhood illnesses and disabilities at a later date – a harmful alternative.

Health Care – Illnesses and Complications

In Senjaar, we spoke to Jeet Singh, a man whose one leg due to an injury was affected with Osteomyelitis. His leg had been infected and at Leman’s hospital was gradually cut off at the sites of infection in the bone. He moved to a private doctor in Dehra Dun because of dissatisfaction. We asked him how he traveled there.

He described how he has to rent a car, which costed him about 250 Rupees to go to Dehra Dun. Specially, he is adamant about booking the front passenger seat in order to comfortably place his leg that wears a brace. There is simply lots of trouble he says, in just making arrangements to see the doctor to get his monthly medications. The Dr. will not give the medicines to anyone else but the patient. He was recently recommended to go to another government hospital in Chandigarh because the fees of his private Dr. were also getting to be too high. Again for affordable health care, people have to go far distances.

This was a common story that we found for people in the Jaunsar Baur seeking health care. If not found locally, with the non-governmental organizations and government clinics (i.e. Kilkari), they would seek help in Chakrata. If not there, they would move to Vikasnagar or Dehra Dun. This traveling is troublesome for families who have incomes lesser than that of the national average.

In Thanta, we spent some time with a faith healer who had both legs amputated due to a cause similar to gangrene. It was hard for him to travel to the hospital. Usually, a few members of his family would need to take a day off of work from their farms to accompany him to see the Dr. in Chakrata. Due to travel issues, had to suffer income loss for one day’s work.

In village Dundyara, we met a herbalist, a Nepali who has settled in the Jaunsar Baur for a very long time. He initially learned about herbs in Nepal from his father. He says, it is more difficult to retrieve herbs and roots in these terrains than it was in Nepal. The Himalayans span both areas, but this area in particular does not have as high peaks as Nepal. This is a minor setback, but it gives another perspective on the way this terrain affects the people in this region.

In Fediyana, we met another adult man, who was a local blacksmith. His left leg was limp due to polio. He did not think his disability was an inconvenience, but using a crutch in the unsteady terrains to commute was rather difficult. As a young child, he used to travel over 200 yards away on his crutch for schooling. He explains that traveling in general in these mountains is hard and is not a limiting factor for only those who have disabilities. “It is hard to travel in the mountains, but for anyone in the mountains, it is hard.”


Chakrate, a small town, is a great resource to even shopkeepers; yet the same problem still stands. Our very own experience with nearby local shop-owner illustrates the problems in communication due to the far distance of Chakrata from the Jaunsar Baur and the set backs poor traveling means to this nearest town creates for locals

For weeks, we have been asking the owner to order chocolate bars and he said there is a contact there who will get them for us, but everyday there is no news from the man he has given the order to. He was supposedly going to order them from Chakrata. Any small shop owner here, has to get his merchandise from Chakrata and it may take 3-5 days for the products to arrive if not more.

Housing Construction

In Majgaon, we interviewed some contractors who told us that slate for roofing comes from far away village Quashi and sun-heated bricks come all the way from Vikasnagar. Even housing materials are not available easily. This is a high expense to construction workers. Materials need to be carried up from the valley where most of the wood is found. Material transport is a barrier due to poorly developed roads and access to different areas in the mountains.

Recall, Jeet Singh, whom we met in Senjaar. His leg injury was caused because he fell off a truck while getting supplies for the construction of his house. He owns many fields, but due to his transportation and ofcourse medical care costs, he had to sell some land. This was the only example we had of selling land and taking loans for health care, but it would not shock us if this was common amongst other families.

Services and resources are slowly being integrated into this area for the Jaunsari community to reap benefits of. Many locals have expressed to us their happiness with development, but also still see areas for improvement. Perhaps due to communication barriers such as distance, the information is not being delivered to them as efficiently as it could be. Nonetheless, it is still an issue for these people that for basic health care, marketing and educational purposes, they have to commute long distances which discourage them from accessing these resources. Perhaps it is an instilled characteristic of mountainous regions, but I have learned so much by listening to the way the men, women and children of the Jaunsari community live. I also been able to appreciate greatly what they do, and be grateful for the lifestyle we take for granted in the West.

(Mohini and ?)