By Shradha Bahuguna:
As a part of Realising India, our group visited Maharajganj district in Uttar Pradesh, India. As per our itinerary, on the 7th day of our rural immersion journey, we decided to visit the Vantangiya Community in the Pharenda block. The Vantagiya community comprises people brought from Myanmar during the colonial rule, by Lord Mountbatten, to plant trees for afforestation. ‘Tangia’ is a distortion of the word for the Burmese technique of shifting hill plantation.
We started our journey in the morning through a calm, bright day, and entered the fresh meadows of the forest. I was exhilarated, as it was my first community visit, and I wanted to see how it goes. As we entered the Vantagiya community, I could see the area covered by the forest canopy. It had banana trees and plantation of paddy, which were ready for harvesting. The huts had a thatched roof, covered with hay, in shades of brown, mud walls, and climbers over the hay.
Further, I could see a school where the kids were sitting outside the classroom, and studying; it reminded me of the time when my teachers used to take our classes outside during winters. As we moved forward, I could see a canal encompassing the school which had mosquitoes breading it. The dilapidated school building showed us a glimpse of the poor condition of people. I wanted to stop and see the school, but we had to move further.
During our visit, we met Kumud Devi (name changed). I could see her bright smile amidst the crowd. I approached her and started interacting with her. I asked her if we could meet the ASHA workers in the community. With excitement, she asked us to accompany her. We asked her “where do you live?”. She said- “It’s just nearby, do you want to see?” An instant YES came out of my mouth. She took us to her house. It was a one-room house that had a thatched roof, covered with climbers, and also had a white rabbit.
As we came out, I saw two rooms nearby. Out of curiosity, I asked her about them. She replied, saying one is where the toilet has to be constructed, and the other is a storage facility. I got closer and looked at the room which she described was for the toilet. It was an open room with no door; only the mud walls were built, other than that, the toilet seat was not there. Seeing the condition of the room, some questions emerged in my mind. But I restricted my thoughts and went further.
As she was showing us around, I saw beautiful huts adjacent to each other, which I hadn’t seen anywhere in our journey. I was perplexed, and out of curiosity, asked her “What are the huts for?” She told me that one of the huts is for the family and another for the girls when they attain puberty and start having periods.
I was awestruck for a moment and wanted to inquire more of the situation. She added that in the community, every household has separate huts for the girls to stay during their periods. The girls, (both married and unmarried) stay in a separate hut, till their menopause. The family provides the girl’s food, and they live there until they are “pure” again.
Thoughts of the school came back to me, which I saw, as we had entered the village, so I asked her – “Phir school ka kya?” (So, what about school?) She said, “Us samay school nahi jati” (They don’t go to school during that time). I couldn’t imagine myself being in that state and living separately from my family during periods. I controlled my emotions and asked her if they knew about pads and if they used them. She smiled at me and said that the people knew about pads ,but nobody in the community used them, due to the high cost. So they used cloth, which was reused again and again.
Hearing Kumud Devi, I was reminded of the movie that I earlier discarded to be true, thinking that the condition of girls has improved in the last 72 years. I was reminded of the high dropout rates of girls after the 5th class. The same dropout rate becomes alarming due to the “pure”-“unpure” dichotomy existing in society. Some thoughts still bother me – about the girl’s hygiene and education, but they motivate and trigger me to work for a better tomorrow.
About the author: a student of the current batch of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM. This story is from Realizing India, a component of the programme, where the students visit different districts to understand the ground realities of our country.