By Moumita Dastidar
PURULIA, WEST BENGAL, 17 June 2018 - Every day, Chhotu Lal Singh cycles for 1.5 kilometres from his home with his four-year old son, Kanchan in one of the remotest tribal blocks Bandwan in Purulia District, West Bengal. Six days a week, Chhotu Lal takes Kanchan to the local Anganwadi (preschool) Centre and then waits outside from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m.
“We have seen very hard days but I still want my son, Kanchan, to be healthy and be educated. I don’t want him to surrender to fate like we did,” Chhotu Lal says.
The local Anganwadi Centre has always catered to the nutritional and educational needs of children and pregnant and lactating mothers in the area. Mothers often crowd around outside the Centres across India, however fathers are not so common. However, since Chhotu Lal’s wife has to go away to the fields for work he stepped in to take Kanchan to the Anganwadi Centre. He is the only father to attend the Anganwadi Centre, says the centre Supervisor Parbati Soren.
“I am from this community and have been working in this centre for many years. I have hardly ever seen any father bringing their children here.”
While at the centre, Chhotu Lal makes sure his son eats the food that is served daily and now pays particular attention to ensuring his son is well-nourished. Earlier Kanchan was severely malnourished and had to be admitted at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre at Bandwan. Once Kanchan returned home, Chhotu Lal started paying more attention to his son’s personal hygiene and food intake. Even though he only manages to earn 150 Rupees (US$2.20) per day as a daily labourer on the rare days when he gets an opportunity to work, Chhotu Lal makes sure that his son gets healthy food at home.
Kanchan’s mother, Shakuntala, says she appreciated Chhotu Lal’s active role as co-parent.
“Unlike most fathers, Chhotu Lal takes good care of our son. He takes him to Anganwadi Center every day, gives him a bath, feeds him at home and plays with him,” she says.
The family’s village lacks most basic amenities, with limited and sometimes no work or earning opportunities. Most people remain unemployed for much of the year, with 90 per cent dependent on agricultural labour work and with the incessant droughts every year, the hardship multiplies with each passing summer. As Chhotu Lal cycles back home with his son he is hopeful that Kanchan will continue to grow to reach his full potential.