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A life amidst filth and faeces

In Amola village, Sahariya women are distraught. There are no toilets here. For the Sahariyas, even the fields are not available for relieving themselves as people of other castes or communities refuse to let them use their land. They even threaten to bury the women alive if they attempt to enter their fields.

Toilets are an alien concept for the tribe, most of whom practice open defecation in the nearby forests. They carry a bottle of water while going to collect fuel-wood from the forests. They use this same water for drinking and washing themselves after defecation. At times when there is no water available, these people either clean themselves with mud or just come back without cleaning.

Guddi, a women in her 30s in Sirsa village describes the dangers of open defecation in the forests. The main danger is from the insect bites which at times could be infectious. Hence open defecation becomes another issue of insecurity among the villagers.

Even where toilets have been built, they lie disused most of the time – unless mindsets are changed, it is difficult to give up a practice of centuries and suddenly begin using toilets.

For women, menstruation is an unimaginable ordeal. In Karal Block, in Sheopur, a community health workers uncovered a shocking practice – during the menstruation period, tribal women in the area sit over an pit for three days. Forget sanitary napkins, hardly anyone uses cloth either during this period.

Given such unhygienic practices, it’s not surprisingly that the women of the region are prone to a host of feminine health problems, including Leucorrhoea and cancer. Two such cases were reported in the district of Sheopur (Source: WaterAid Regional Office West, survey done through local NGO Partners).

Indeed, from the data on health collected through discussions with the community and with health workers, it’s evident that the life of Sahariyas was a web of diseases and ailments. In almost all the villages visited skin diseases, tuberculosis, dysentery, cholera and urinary tract infections and eye infections were rampant.

A survey done by doctors in Gwalior revealed that among the cases of tuberculosis reported in the region, the maximum incidence was amongst the Sahariyas.

Water, sanitation and health have important impacts on both health and disease. Water-related diseases include those due to micro-organisms and chemicals in water people drink; diseases due to micro-organisms which have part of their lifecycle in water, diseases like malaria with water-related vectors. If a closer analysis of the type of incident diseases prevalent among the Sahariyas is made, then it is found that most of them are water-borne diseases or diseases arising out of poor sanitation and personal hygiene.

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