By Amol Gutte:
Translated by: Rucha Satoor
Ravindra Chhagan Chaudhary, 29 years of age, has worked extensively in Toranmal, Dhadgaon, Nandurbar to fight malnutrition. After completing his SSC Board exams, Ravindra started assisting other villagers in their everyday governance-related activities. Ravindra is married with two children and lives with his entire family in Toranmal.
Toranmal is an area whose primary residents are Adivasis. It is unfortunately infamous for staggering numbers of malnourished children. UNICEF, Shabari, CORO and a number of organisations have joined hands to end this malnutrition, but the acute problem still persists.
Ravindra has been an avid reader since childhood. Reading informed him about the social realities around him. Having developed a social conscience, he was acutely distressed about the issues around him. The chronic malnutrition in Nandurbar became, even more, pressing in his mind, when a close relative’s daughter was diagnosed with it. No one around him even knew the word ‘Kuposhan’ or ‘Malnutrition’ back then. With the help of the local Primary Health Center and Anganwadi workers, he tried to decode this word, and simultaneously, even the issue. Ravindra resolved to create a generation of Adivasis who were not only aware of malnutrition, but also free from it. Around the same time, Shabaree Foundation was working to boost the levels of Nutrition in their village. Ravindra joined their efforts, and that’s how he started the decade and a half long fight for Children’s nutritional rights in his village.
Ravindra procured a list of all the malnourished children in the village with the help of Anganwadi sevikas. Most children in his neighbourhood weren’t even registered in the local Anganwadi. He visited each house that had a malnourished child. He started to do peer counselling with every family about malnourishment and its grave effects. He realised that the question of nourishment is intrinsically related to other social realities in the village as well. Early marriage, early pregnancy, toiling day and night for earning a decent livelihood, delay in breastfeeding children due to ungodly work hours, lack of appropriate nourishment, were some chronic and interlinked questions of the area. Over a period of time, he slowly started exploring ideas of nourishment and nutrition from the Anganwadi sevikas.
To break this cycle, with the help of his peer circle, he started opposing child marriage in his area. When they went together, and in large numbers, most houses were willing to listen and started coming on board. Together, they started keeping a vigilant eye on every child born in the area. Their weight, their food intake, and the frequency of breastfeeding were strictly monitored through peer counselling and home visits. Another area of focus was the mother’s nutritional intake, cleanliness, and breastfeeding practices. This is how every child’s growth and progress was monitored, and the community also felt involved in the solution.
Every three months, Ravindra addresses at least a hundred houses. Ravindra and his group peer counsel families who migrate for work, and request them to keep their child back, instead of taking them along. He insists that this is a question of the child’s rights.
Ravindra’s work has inspired an aspirational outlook in the youth around him. Some youth start this work from their own families. Since children are their areas of focus, they also take up a number of other child rights-related questions with the help of the Gram Panchayat. They’ve had to face the resistance of blind-faith and ignorant mindsets continually, but they persist working for child rights without losing hope or conviction. Out of all the families, he’s peer counselled, most children have been declared Malnutrition-free. Now, he’s turned his attention to the neighbouring villages. Seeing the students studying now, one can easily see hope and aspiration in the community.
Ravindra hopes to register an organisation, which he wants to start in collaboration with local youth. Laudably, the organisation wants to focus extensively on children’s rights. Going beyond peer counselling, they now want to create decent and dignified livelihood opportunities in Nandurbar itself. They’re hoping livelihood addresses both economic and social realities, which form the root cause of malnutrition in the area. They want to make Toranmal a self-reliant village, leveraging the experience they’ve gathered from working with different organisations, over the years.
Ravindra is firmly convinced that each one of us needs to work hand in hand to end the question of malnutrition. Only then will our future generations and our nation have able and strong-willed citizens.
Ravindra Chaudhary’s efforts have significantly reduced malnutrition in Toranmal and have paved the way for creating a healthier future. His work is inspirational as it creates a possibility for a healthier, happier life for children in his area.
*Feature image for representational purposes.