About 100 miles South-East of Jhansi, Madhya Pradesh, is the town of Khajuraho. The world descends on this town to view, photograph and sing paeans about its spectacular temples built between 950 and 1050 CE by the Chandela dynasty. Today, about 20 temples from that era still survive. The world marvels at the beauty of the temples and all the associated festivals. It takes a special kind of effort and commitment however, to immerse oneself in activities that can add to the beauty of this area, without quite the same fan-fare as is accorded the storied temples!
Consider the story of 5 year old Arati. She lives in a village called Kundarpura- a settlement of Adivasis (tribals) merely 6 k.m from the temple site. An otherwise alert and beautiful child, Arati suffered a fate similar to many children in the area- acute malnutrition. At the age of 5, she looked physically like a 2 year old and also suffered all the health related consequences (physical, mental and emotional) of poor nutrition. The adivasis have traditionally been foragers and have depended on their immediate ‘catchment’ area for their dietary needs. Rampant urbanization has slowly eroded their traditional food sources and they are now making do with the more limited food choices that their modified neighborhood provides. This has increasingly led to problems of malnutrition, the effects of which are much more pronounced on the children of the community. Arati’s growth charts at the local anganwadi center (an early childhood development center run by the government) classified Arati as ‘severely malnourished’. There were 5 more children in the same category.
Jagadish, a fellow Adivasi from the area, decided that he must help Arati and the other children by using resources provided by the government. Jagadish took on the responsibility of convincing the Adivasi community of the need for specialized care for cases like Arati. After much cajoling of the parents, Arati and five of her friends were taken to the Nutritional Rehabilitation Center.
The results were dramatic. After initial treatment at the center and with six months of special nutrition and follow-up at the Anganwadi, Arati and her friends were significantly stronger, happier and mentally more alert. Jagadish felt as if the children were completely transformed! The results of Jagadish’s constant efforts to educate the community on the services of the anganwadi and the methods to ward off malnutrition using local foods are starting to bear fruit. Slowly, mothers in the community are playing a larger role in monitoring the services offered by the Anganwadi and ensuring that nutrition, medicines and treatment reach the children.
Its not just malnutrition that Jagadish addressed in the last 2 years. Jagadish helped raise Rs 3,56,400 in entitlements for his village last year. When the only teacher of the primarily school, played truant, he got the mothers of the village together and followed his model of ‘Educate-Empower-Organize-Act’, to get the teacher transferred.The village of Kundarpura was a village which brewed its own liquor, which the villagers merrily consumed. Under Jagadish’s leadership the women of Kundarpura came together to successfully make their village free of alcohol. The women’s group got a state award and Jagdish another feather in his cap.
These are now the new ‘beautiful stories’ of Khajuraho. The joy of seeing mentally alert, healthy and happy children in his community and a village which is liquor free significantly more for Jagadish than what the carvings in the temple can provide him. To Jagadish and his community, Khajuraho is now just a little more beautiful!
(Thanks to Bharat Ramanath and Shalini Joshi for the edits)