Lifelines, Life Chances, Health Care
In Areas Affected By Violence


Violence in all forms affects people in diverse and dehumanising ways. It uproots individuals, tears apart families and communities, robs people of their sources of livelihood, and makes the lives of women and children extremely insecure. International and national laws underline the principle that the human dignity of all individuals must be respected at all times in situations of conflict. To mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, we bring you a special series that focuses on people caught up or engaged in situations of conflict and on initiatives to deliver health treatment and life chances to them.

Women Live In Fear In Manipur's Epicentre of Conflict
By Ninglun Hanghal

In 2006, 25 women - many of them still in their teens - were allegedly tortured, molested and sexually harassed by so-called 'underground outfits' in villages like Parbung, Hmarkhawpui and Sipuikawn, deep inside Manipur's conflict-affected district of Churachandpur. The incident drew the attention of the Hmar Women's Association (HWA), who then campaigned hard for justice, even coming to Delhi to lobby with the National Commission of Women. Because of their efforts, a commission of inquiry was set up. The HWA campaign exposed the pitiable situation of rape survivors in situations of conflict, and their general lack of support especially in terms of health care and legal support. Today, they are still fighting for justice in the case.

* 'The villagers would have to pay dearly if a demand, or rather 'command' - which extended to sexual favours - was not obeyed. '

WFS REF NO: INDKB08I           1,280 words           Photographs Available

Empty Shells Or Hospitals? Inside Orissa's Conflict Prone Tribal Belt
By Sarada Lahangir

When Bimala Majhi, 30, of Dongriguda village went into labour she had to be rushed to the only Public Health Centre (PHC) at Jharigoan, a faraway village. To reach Jharigoan, the heavily pregnant woman endured a long journey: First, she travelled 10 kilometres to Badtemra village sitting in a bamboo basket. From there she went another 36 kilometres by bus. By the time she reached Jharigoan, she had developed severe complications and so was referred to the subdivision hospital at Umerkot, another 11 kilometres away. An auto ride later, when she arrived in Umerkot, the duty doctor was on leave and so Bimala had to then be taken to the district hospital where she underwent a caesarean operation and gave birth to a baby girl who survived only for one day. In the tribal-dominated and Maoist-prone Nawrangpur district in Odisha, it's typical for women like Bimala to traverse great distances to gain access to any form of healthcare. Health infrastructure is in place: PHCs, Community Health Centres and divisional hospitals dot the district, but a severe lack of doctors makes a mockery of health care.

* "For the last few years there has been an increase in Maoist activities in the district and the situation is only getting worse. Fearing for their life... doctors are not ready to continue working. "

WFS REF NO: INDKB01I           1,120 words           Photographs Available

Fighting For Prisoners' Rights, Clad In A Burqa
By Arfa Khanum Sherwani

Meet 42-year-old Dr Rafat Seema. A teacher by profession, she stepped forward to help the families of those accused in Hyderabad's Macca Masjid blasts. Although she met with a lot of resistance initially she was determined to push ahead and began by setting up the 'NISA Research and Resource Centre for Women', a collective of volunteers, including young students and home-makers from local neighbourhoods. But the task at hand was not an easy one. It was not like doing charitable work to help the destitute. Most of the accused came from poor and marginalised families, with little economic or social clout. As for the women left behind, they were for the most part poorly educated with few skills to make ends meet. The situation demanded not just the rehabilitation of the families with some temporary financial help, but a long-term training programme that would give them the skills to actually manage in the absence of the family's breadwinners.

* 'I only had to go to jail. It was my family who was punished. They were alienated from the rest of the world. Only Seema baaji would go to my house and talk to the women, consoling them and helping them whenever possible.'

WFS REF NO: INDKA24I           1,200 words           Photographs Available

In Quake-struck Sikkim, A Struggle For Basic Healthcare
By Saadia Azim

When an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale struck Sikkim last month, Kima Sherpa, 56, who was living in the outer verandah of Vijra Cinema Hall in Gangtok, did not leave her temporary shelter for fear of losing her belongings. Six months earlier, Kima and her carpenter husband had left their home in Lingtam village in eastern Sikkim in the hope of making a better living in the city. That move proved to be a disastrous mistake thanks to the quake. As her husband urged her to run, the roof of the hall fell on her. She was rescued with deep cuts on her head and face and when she woke up in hospital, she saw that her right leg had been amputated. Nevertheless, Kima can consider herself lucky: She is at least alive today, unlike so many others. The challenge is to keep going. Accessing healthcare is not easy in quake struck Sikkim. Today, its already limited health infrastructure and support services have been stretched to the limit and the general situation has been made worse by inclement weather and landslides.

* Nerkit Lepcha from Chungthang in North Sikkim says, "Had relief not reached on time my baby would not have been born. We still do not know what has happened to other expectant mothers like me who could not be reached on time."

WFS REF NO: INDKA17I           1,200 words           Photographs Available

Wives of Political Prisoners Share Their Lives
By Sharmistha Choudhury

What is it like to be happy? What is like to not be concerned about the well-being of a loved-one every hour of every day? What is it like to celebrate festivals? What is it like to eat a meal as a family? What is it like not to feel weak, ill or helpless all the time? What is like to have the money to buy food and medicines? Ask Shikha Sen Roy, Mukta Chakraborty or Mahamaya Sarkar and you will not get any answers. For this is exactly the kind of life these wives of jailed political prisoners are struggling with. Their husbands and sons are languishing in jails across West Bengal and they themselves are caught in a web of despair and disease. But even as the hope of ever leading normal lives fades away slowly, these brave women are unwilling to give up without a fight. Shikha has now taken the initiative to bring together various women's organisations and wives of political prisoners on to a single platform to demand the unconditional release of not just Maoists, but all political prisoners.

* 'I can't visit him regularly. He is in the jail hospital and I have been able to go only once since he was admitted. It takes three hours to reach Kolkata by train. If I take time off from my small sari business, how will I earn?'

WFS REF NO: INDKA12I           1,280 words           Photographs Available

All Shook Up: Quake-struck Darjeeling Fights Trauma
By Pasang D. Lepcha

It was a typical Sunday evening. People were busy planning for the Durga Puja festivities when an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre in neighbouring Sikkim, struck. One moment there was calm; in the next, pandemonium filled with horror. Instantly, telephone and electricity lines went down; mobile networks got jammed. Everyone came out on the streets seeking safer places and, as the night approached, many stayed out afraid to go indoors. The quake left the nearly 1.8 million people of Darjeeling, the stunning hill district of West Bengal, in a state of shock. First, it was panic and fear and then there was post-traumatic stress - with the elderly and the children the worst sufferers. But Darjeeling has no facility catering to psychiatric care.

* "I did not even know that we are in Seismic Zone 4 and that is scary. I feel lucky to be alive but I realise that we are not really prepared for disasters like these."

WFS REF NO: INDKA03I           1,130 words           Photographs Available

Hope Among The Ruins: After The Garo-RabhaClashes, Fulara Wants To Farm Again
By Ratna Bharali Talukdar

Fulara Sira, Garo tribal widow and a mother of four is a victim of an ethnic clash that displaced her family for several months from their village of Ginogre on the Assam-Meghalaya border. Fulara's husband, a primary school teacher, had died in 2008, and the family was living off a small plot of agricultural land and a rubber plantation. During the clashes, however, everything got burnt down along with the family's livestock and home. Today, survival is not easy but Fulara dreams of reviving her small farm holdings. Well, she just may be able to do that with the help of the Micro Economic Initiative Programme, an initiative of the Indian Red Cross Society's Assam branch and the International Committee on Red Cross, which aims at improving the living conditions of victims of conflict by intervening effectively in terms of livelihood.

* "After returning, for some days we had to beg for survival. This is against our morals and our customs. Now, my elder son, who is a student of Class XII, works as a daily wage earner to feed us."

WFS REF NO: INDK919I           1,270 words           Photographs Available

Arrested Lives: How Women Cope When Husbands Are Jailed
By Sharmistha Choudhury

Saraswati is only 27, but except when she smiles, she looks older. The last three years have seen an unending cycle of hope and despair, mostly despair: Her husband, a jute mill trade unionist, was first sent to jail for murder, dismissed from service after coming out on bail, reinstated after a year of fierce struggle and then again booked on charges of attempt to murder and dismissed from service once again. This experience has aged her more than an entire lifetime. Saraswati's story is important because it is the story of innumerable women across India whose husbands, fathers or brothers find themselves in jail. What are the experiences of these women? How do they cope? How do they fight suicidal thoughts and keep going?

* "Those were the worst days of my life. With my husband behind bars, there was no money. The kids often starved when shopkeepers refused to extend credit. The electricity line was disconnected because of non-payment."

WFS REF NO: INDK905I           1,290 words           Photographs Available

Living Behind Bars - Women Tell Their Stories
By Shwetha E. George

What do Meenakshi, Sarojini and Rakkamma have in common? All three are Tamil-speaking, under 40 and living under one roof. No, they are not relatives but inmates of the Women's Cell at the Kottayam Sub-Jail. Accused of petty theft, all three are migrants, among the many who come to Kerala from the neighbouring states during the summers to make some quick money on the streets but end up behind bars even faster. It is poverty and a lack of opportunity that pushes these women into pickpocketing and most of them get involved in the begging racket being run by local goons. But if life on the streets is tough, an existence behind prison walls, too, is no easy ride. There's a heavy price to be paid physically, mentally and emotionally. Imagine not knowing when and if you'd be set free; imagine living without the children for whom you decided to steal; imagine falling ill and no one really caring to see what's wrong with you.

* 'We do it (pickpocket) only to save our children from starvation. (Here) we simply talk. We eat our three meals. We cry ourselves to sleep.'

WFS REF NO: INDK823I           1,280 words           Photographs Available

Losing The 'Golden Hour': Measuring Mumbai's Emergency Response
By Geeta Seshu

One of the most riveting photographs of the bomb blasts that shook Mumbai a few weeks back was of bloodied and traumatised victims being transported in a tempo to the nearest hospital. The picture said a lot about the condition of emergency care in a city that has been facing major attacks every few years and, given its population of over 12 million, scores of minor emergencies daily. Yet, preparedness is the last thing citizens can hope to experience here. During the blasts, eye-witnesses say the police arrived 15 minutes late, ambulances were unavailable and the injured were ferried to hospitals in taxis and tempos. In the name of specilised care, Mumbai has one trauma centre at the Sion Hospital, but the 25-year-old government facility is in need of a major overhaul; the other proposed trauma centre in JJ Hospital is in the pipeline. The world over, emergency care follows the concept of the 'golden hour' but for Mumbaikers this always translates into the 'lost hour'.

* 'Many deaths are due to faulty transport to hospitals and we must have special ambulances... We also need better civic and traffic sense from the public. Often, ambulances don't get right-of-way.'

WFS REF NO: INDK808I           1,290 words           Photographs Available

Health Agents Deliver Hope In Maoist Country
By Sarada Lahangir

Ask the local communities in villages in the extremist belt of Odisha's Koraput district, and they will tell you many stories of how Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) have helped them immeasurably during medical emergencies. Where there is no doctor, where there is constant fear caused by the endless cycle of Maoist violence and state reprisal, it is here that these local women trained as health activists have lived up to their name - 'asha' or hope. Unfortunately, while everybody in Koraput recognises their importance in a situation of insurgency, the issue of a fair compensation for ASHAs is hardly discussed.

* "The whole credit goes to ASHA, Moti Jani, who showed immense courage in bringing her to the hospital in a situation in which people are too scared to travel even during the day, forget about night."

WFS REF NO: INDK718I           1,290 words           Photographs Available

Lucknow Jail's Women Inmates Fight Ill-health and Stigma
By Anjali Singh

'I was told that my daughter-in-law's family filed an FIR against the whole family. I did not even get time to consult a lawyer. I brought both my grandsons - just two and four years old - to jail. They grew up here.'... 'I was 17 when Naxalites came one night and hacked my husband to death. The next morning the police arrested me. My son was born in jail and was taken away to a protection home when he was six. Every day I think of him.' Behind the walls of the scenic new Adarsh Jail in Mohan Lalganj, on the outskirts of Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow, the fate of scores of women inmates has been sealed. Pain, stress and trauma have become part of their lives. But even as they fight depression and age-related health issues every day, it's the jail hospital staff that provides them with the much-needed support, something the women are grateful for.

* "Carrying the stigma of being a convict ruins any chance of their going back into their homes and re-joining the society they once knew. This realisation torments them emotionally. It's a very sad state to live in."

WFS REF NO: INDK704I           1,260 words           Photographs Available

Kashmiri Women Village Paramedics Battle On Another Front
By Aditi Bhaduri

It was just another mundane day for Munira Manzoor until a knock on the door changed her life. From a school drop-out she became a respected paramedic in her village of Zuhama in Budgam district of Kashmir. That was in 1997. The Valley was in the throes of armed insurgency and the healthcare system was in shambles: Doctors had left and medical facilities had deteriorated, especially in the remote villages. It was then that Dr Ali Mohamed Mir, a retired IAS officer, decided to collaborate with the J&K Voluntary Health and Development Association to build local paramedic teams. He went door-to-door in villages in Budgam, Pulwama and Khansaab, asking girls and women to volunteer. And they did, at great personal risk. Munira came forward, as did Haseena Begum, Sakeena Shafi and others. Today, this healing force not only takes care of the basic health and natal needs of women in their communities, they also provide trauma counselling and educate them about issues like domestic violence.

* "Initially people laughed at me, they would poke fun by saying 'look, the doctor has come'"

WFS REF NO: INDK613I           1,280 words           Photographs Available

Border Communities Who Lose Their Daughters To Trafficking and Despair
By Swapna Majumdar

When Shikha Mondal, 16, didn't come back home even after a month of her going missing from her marital home, neighbours inquired about her and were told that she had got 'lost' while grazing their cattle... Three years back, Belika Khatun, 15, was sent with her aunt to get "married to a good boy" in Delhi. That was the last time her parents saw her. Shikha and Belika are among the many young girls, who 'vanish' or 'go missing after marriage' or get 'lost' from villages along the 2,000 kilometre Indo-Bangladesh border in the North 24 Parganas and Nadia districts of West Bengal. In a region marked by cross-border tensions and uncertainty, young women from impoverished families become easy victims to traffickers. The issue has taken a serious toll on the health and well-being of these communities living near the border.

* "I pleaded with her not to go but she said she had to earn more money so that we could lead a better life. When she gave me Rs 9,000, I knew something was wrong."

WFS REF NO: INDK530I           1,280 words           Photographs Available

Desperately Seeking Doctors In Orissa's Red Zone
By Sarada Lahangir

The growing presence of Maoists in Malkangiri, one of Orissa's poorest districts, has taken a heavy toll on health care delivery here. While the insurgents have not directly attacked any health establishment or health personnel so far, the frequent road blockades, ambushes on police parties and threats to government officials, have left health care services in complete disarray. Of the 111 sanctioned posts for doctors in the district, 71 posts are lying vacant, 50 per cent of paramedical posts remain unfilled and half the primary health centres here have no doctors. People living in interior villages sometimes have to walk miles, carrying their sick relatives in bamboo baskets or on a cot, to get them treatment in the nearest town. Is it any surprise then that Malkangiri records high maternal and infant mortality?

* "If a district collector here can be abducted, then what about ordinary people like us? We want to work and serve the people but not at the cost of our lives."

WFS REF NO: INDK509I           1,110 words           Photographs Available

Behind Police Lines: The Edgy Lives Of Constables' Wives
By Shwetha George

While the media's focus has invariably been on police atrocities, not enough attention has been paid to the poor conditions under which police personnel at the lower levels of the constabulary live and work - factors which could in fact trigger police brutality. A constable's job is a highly coveted one in Kerala, given its high unemployment figures. Yet, life in the police barracks is often far from congenial and the tensions inherent in a job that involves confronting situations of conflict and violence often get transferred to family members. Wives of police constables in Kerala speak about their situation, as we piece together the story of their lives.

* "The trauma that I go through each time he's called away to places of unrest is unspeakable. Now even my children have stopped asking me why their father's not home yet."

WFS REF NO: INDK425I           1,250 words           Photographs Available

After the Garo-Rabha Clashes: Malaria and Hunger
By Ratna Bharali Talukdar

A bumper crop, the birth of a baby boy, the upcoming festivities of the 'Magh Bihu' harvest festival in January and her husband's promise to buy a two-wheeler, were reasons enough for Himani Rabha, 27, of Teklipara I village in Goalpara district of lower Assam, to be happy with life. Then, just a few days later, ethnic clashes between the Garo and Rabha tribes forced her to flee home. They meant that life for Himani, and other Rabha women living in Assam's Kukurkata Relief Camp, is fraught with hunger, ill health, panic and an acute livelihood crisis. They have no money and eat only once a day. Inadequate sanitation facilities have made them vulnerable to diseases and health care is very basic. With the monsoon just round the corner they know their already unbearable camp life is only set to get tougher.

* "Already there is an acute food shortage. And now we also need mosquito nets. These border areas are malaria prone and with the monsoon season coming, break outs of epidemic proportion are feared."

WFS REF NO: INDK412I           1,250 words           Photographs Available

In Manipur, Illness And Frailty Can't Stop These Women
By Anjulika Thingnam

The impact of conflict on the health of peace builders and human rights activists is rarely highlighted, much less understood. But its effects run deep nevertheless. Most of the elderly women activists fighting against violence in Manipur have serious health problems. They suffer from conditions such as gastritis, diabetes, insomnia, blood pressure, dizzy spells, anxiety attacks and chronic fatigue. But, as one woman put it, "somehow by sheer will, we derive the strength to go on from within ourselves."

* "During the peak of the agitations, which are very frequent in the state, we would go to bed, yet lie awake unable to sleep for hours, thinking what would be the best course of action."

WFS REF NO: INDK328I           1,250 words           Photographs Available

6,300 ft Above Sea Level, A Kashmir School Helps Girls Reach For The Sky
By Anjali Singh

In a corner of troubled Kashmir, tucked away high up in the mountains, a school is delivering life chances to village children. Situated 60 kilometres north east of the violence prone Rajouri district in Kashmir, this institution testifies to the principle that no matter what the situation, no matter what the conflict, it must not be allowed to affect the lives, education, health and well-being of the children in the region. And among those who have benefitted the most are girls from poor, conservative backgrounds who have seized the opportunity to shape their own lives with spontaneous enthusiasm and boundless energy.

* "We live in such a remote place that it takes me two or three hours to reach school. I come with a few other girls from my village... We love coming to school, because it brings the wider world to us."

WFS REF NO: INDK314I           1,300 words           Photographs Available

Delivering Health Care At Gun Point
By Ajitha Menon

Despite the odds, Sombari Hemrom gave birth to a premature baby boy in June 2010 in Kalaimuri village in Maoist-affected West Medinipur district of Bengal. It's another matter that the health centre's "doctor" was a quack and the "nurse", an untrained attendant. Ever since the people's war started around 2007-08, government officials, including the health department staff, fled the area. Their replacement? Centres run by the Maoist-backed People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, where local doctors and nurses along with several untrained personnel have been serving voluntarily or at gunpoint. Today, families have nothing; nothing except for malnutrition, skin diseases, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and malaria. Is there a cure in sight? For now, the local people can only pray for their lives.

* "I worked at the government's primary health clinic before the officials ran away. So, when the PCPA ordered me to work, I agreed so that the people could avail of at least some medical care. If I had refused, the Maoists would have shot me."

WFS REF NO: INDK228I           1,020 words           Photographs Available

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