Beena’s Story Begs The Question – Is Moving To A Big City The Only Way To A Better Life?

Posted on May 14, 2015 in Human Rights

By Anugraha Hadke

Beena eats only once a day, nothing too heavy. Mostly potatoes and rice, or sometimes a chapatti or two. She’s been very regular with this diet, hasn’t wavered even once. But she most definitely is not on this diet out of choice. Beena is the resident of Sanjay colony in Okhla, where she lives with her son, daughter in-law and two granddaughters. The elder one, Madhu, is four, Mahima is just 15 months old, though you’d hardly believe she was more than six months if you saw her.

Beena with her grandchildren. Courtesy- Save The Children
Beena with her grandchildren.
Courtesy- Save The Children

It is so incredibly easy to overlook the benefits and luxuries that come with monetary stability. Do you remember the last time you thought twice before picking up that pack of bread? Or complaining about running out of cheese slices? With just about 3000 rupees coming into the household per month, Beena’s family just about manages to buy the bare minimum ration, which is never enough to sustain the family of five. They survive on potatoes, rice, and wheat. A good week would mean ½ a kilo tomatoes or radishes. Meat or fish isn’t an option, they simply can’t afford it. The rising cost of living in Delhi means that even the potatoes are the cheap, left over kind. And they can only buy about 2kgs per week. That’s roughly two and a half potatoes per person, per week.

The granddaughters have never had any fruit, they probably don’t even know what biscuits and chocolates look like. “The four year old cries because we go to the market and she can’t have fruit or chocolate. My heart aches when she cries too much and sometimes I have to hit her to make her stop,” Beena explains.

Because her mother barely had anything to eat while she was pregnant, Mahima is so severely malnourished that she almost died. For months, she couldn’t sit up, learning to walk was even harder.

Beena’s is one story. There are more than 1.8 million Beenas in Delhi who are living similar lives. These families leave their households in rural areas and move to cities in hopes of living a better life. Employment is the most common reason behind this decision.

Just like Beena’s family did, the rural poor move to cities in search of better healthcare and income, but often fail to find either. There is a vast gap in healthcare facilities and child nutrition in urban India. The urban poor cannot afford the high quality health services available in the city, and the under-funded public facilities sometimes cannot even provide basic healthcare. Because of this, an urban poor child is 3 to 5 times more likely to die than an urban rich child.

Despite the harsh reality of the urban disadvantage, of the total household migration that took place in India in 2007-08, more than half shifted from rural to urban areas.

1/3rd of the developing world’s population is living in slums. More often than not, those moving from rural to urban areas settle in slums like Dharavi in Mumbai, Bhalswa in Delhi, Nochikuppam In Chennai, Basanti in Kolkata, and Rajendra Nagar in Hyderabad. These localities lack basic facilities of sewage and hygiene, further worsening the health conditions of its poorly fed residents.

The 16th Annual State Of The World’s Mothers Report on a study by Save The Children, highlights key issues affecting the health of mothers and children all over the world, and the steps that need to be taken to solve them.
It has reported that extreme poverty in these slum areas is leading to malnourishment in children, as well as adults. A prominent effect that can been seen is the growth in children. More than half of the urban poor children in Bangladesh and India are stunted. Malnourishment decreases the body’s capacity to fight off diseases, which leads to the children regularly contracting infections and illnesses, and often losing their lives.

53 children per every 1000, die before they get to celebrate their fifth birthdays. 139 children died between 2009 and 2012 in the national capital region alone. 44% of children in India under five suffer from malnutrition, and more than 50,000 children in Delhi live on the street. They live off scraps, and often don’t get to eat for days.

Through its Maternal, Newborn & Child Health and Nutrition Services, Save The Children has set up mobile health units covering sixty slum clusters across five districts in Delhi. With the primary focus on maternal and child health, the team aims to treat diseases and infections, and provide them with basic healthcare.

Over the past few years, India has seen a noticeable decline in infant and maternal mortality rates. The figures are steadily declining, and have been cut down by almost half. While there is still a long way to go, there is hope that Beena and the 4000 other households of Sanjay colony, along with the millions of others in the country, will be able to work towards living happier, healthier lives.