Snehalata got to her feet but she was fumbling for words. Never before, she had found herself in an auditorium, amidst a thousand vociferous women and men. She probably never had held a mike either. Standing up and speak, when all attention was drawn to her, was unnerving. But soon the initial nervousness gave way to resoluteness and she asked: “Is there any punishment for those who dissuade pregnant women to go for institutional delivery? Our family members don’t encourage us. The health workers of my village too are not very forthcoming.’’
Experts at the podium of Cuttack’s Sahid Bhawan were not exactly expecting such a poser but it sure pleased them no end. They knew the issue was not about punishment; it was not about the issue of inadequate health care services either. It was more about a sense of awakening among the hundreds of other Snehalatas who had gathered that day to attend the Safe motherhood Adalat (Nirapada Matrutwa Adalat) braving scorching heat and sweltering conditions, leaving behind the daily chores of their family lives.
The Safe Motherhood Adalat, a joint initiative of UNICEF and State Commission for Women (SCW) since June 2006, had given them a forum and an opportunity to share their experiences, express their views and question those who are at the helm of affairs.
Pramila Behera, an anganwadi worker of Nimasahi village recounted the plight of a woman who had underwent tubectomy at City Hospital in Cuttack City but realized to her horror that she was pregnant again, five months after delivering her first child. “Whose fault is it? Should the doctors not be held responsible for the faulty operation?” she asked the Chief District Medical Officer of Cuttack Dr RN Das.
In a State where maternal mortality rate (MMR) has long remained disturbingly high – 358 per 100,000 live births as against the national average of 301, the likes of Snehalata and Pramila augured well for the future of mothers. For the ‘adalat’ was able to draw them out in hundreds, educate and make them demand their rights as women and mothers.
They raised issues ranging from safe and legal abortion to health welfare schemes of the government. Like Jayashree Panda wanted to know why the women in her village have not been sanctioned the cash assistance under Janani Suraksha Yojna (JSY) since June 2006. She was informed that the guidelines were formulated in December and there were some discrepancies in the assistance rates which contributed to the delay.
Dushmant Nayak of Erola in Nichintakoili said immunization camps were not held regularly in his village. Sometimes, the auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) demanded remuneration for the same too.
If most of these cases came from rural pockets, Dr Harihar Sahoo, secretary of voluntary organization Srusti shared his experience in Cuttack Municipal limits. Srusti works for women’s rights in the Millennium City.
This initiative is part of the UNICEF Maternal Mortality Advocacy Project funded by United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).