If a child has pneumonia - a hot saddle shaped iron dipped in a oil is paced on navel of the little one - with a belief that it will cure it ! Well this is true that too in very heart of India in Shivpuri. Shivpuri is a district of state of Madhya Pradesh. Though it is district of Madhya Pradesh but is bounded by Jhansi in east, which is a district of Uttar Pradesh, and on the west by Kota district of Rajasthan.
Shivpuri mostly has laid out small hilltops covered with deciduous forests where the slope is gentle with verdant vegetation and good forests round about, the landscape is generally pleasing.
It has a population of about 11.5 million predominantly of which is in rural sector. National highway pass through Shivpuri so it has better road connectivity on the main line but the moment you turn inside the roads get quite bumpy. Sometime back I had chance to visit there. I was in a jeep about eleven kilometers from the main highway, suddenly the driver turned left. I was bit amazed and saw the driver with suspicion as I could only see rubble of sandstones on the hilly slope ' absolutely no road. But the driver exuded confidence and was more courageous, he just went ahead and after about three kilometers of non-motorabale hilly lane we were at village Dwarka. Dwarka is village in Pichore Block of Shivpuri. It had an inhabitation of about 60 houses mainly of which were from Sahariya tribes (plus) some from the upper caste mainly Thakurs.
Seeing a jeep coming in the tribals from all over village started gathered near the jeep. I had some one known to the villagers with me so introduction was bit easy. We all gathered outside house of Ranjiraam. It was a typical feudal style; I was offered a charpoi to sit while all of them were on the floor, quite uncomfortable for all of us. I did prefer to stand for some time and then gradually sat down on the floor; well it was easier for my heart.
Ranjiram had lost his four children because of measles but when asked what you did when your children had measles he said initially they take their children to temple and they are made to lie down there and devotional songs were sung by group of villagers in favor of god. Measles is called as mata and the firm belief is that this is due to 'god's wish' and he only can take care of it. In addition to it, the already malnourished child is given very less to eat with a belief that prayers will have mystic role. By the way what do they eat ' either cooked roti alone or sometimes with cooked grass. If they get some work then local vegetable or dal. Dalia ' for school children used to come and for last few months that too was missing. I did meet number of children with protruding bellies (a sign of malnutrition or worm infestation) but which they believe as sign of healthiness.
During the discussions I suddenly noticed a child who had some marks around his navel, were bit surprised and even curious. Rather than just exploding with questions, which could have been risky as they might take it as offense, I felt that there was a need to explore further. I drifted a bit and slowly asked the question what that mark was?
The belief in village is that if the child suffers with high fever (pneumonia), and if hot horseshoe shape iron dipped in oil is kept at the navel of the child - fever will come down and the mark on the child that we saw was the same mark. On hearing this, I could feel chill in my spine ' it may be called as 'navel branding'. Where are we ' if child suffers from measles it will go on it own, if child has pneumonia ' navel branding is the treatment, where children may not get all three meals and even if they get some it is the cooked grass ' so called dalia for school had not come for last 3 months'
Though westernization and way of life have affected the dress, may be to some extent daily life however social life and customs and superstitions still remain engrained with us. Though the silver lining is that young ones who are getting educated are trying to drift away from the set patterns but still we have a long way to go in many parts of India. This also present a real communication challenge to our efforts of bringing in changes in scenario in some of the social indicators like infant and maternal death rates which are among the highest in these parts of the country and may be that is the reason we need to look at the way we address these areas differently?