Pregnant women helpless at Orissa relief camps

By Prashant K. Nanda, IANS,

Kandhamal (Orissa) : Pregnant women are the worst sufferers in the relief camps for victims of anti-Christian violence. Their houses burnt down, over two dozen women have given birth during their stay in the makeshift tents in the last two months and many more are expecting.

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Besides sleeping on the ground, with just a plastic mat to lie upon even though it gets cold at night, and eating just dal and rice, they have to cope with inadequate medical attention at several relief camps – far from the comfort of their homes.

“What can we do? We have no homes in our village,” said Sarita Nayak, 25, a pregnant woman in a relief camp in G. Udaygiri town, around 350 km from Bhubaneswar.

“Over 30 babies have been born in the last two months and scores of women are in an advanced stage of pregnancy. This is a bad time for all of us,” Nayak told a visiting IANS correspondent.

The lack of nutritious food is not lost even on poor people like her.

Nayak, the wife of a daily wage labourer from Gadaguda village, said she had not eaten a single egg in the last two months – ever since the attacks on Christians began in Orissa, triggered by the killing of a Hindu leader.

“We are poor people. Had I been at my home, I would have taken a lot of spinach along with rice…and some milk also,” she said.

In the ninth month of her pregnancy, she blamed the anti-Christian violence for her condition, but said: “At least we are alive here. They (some Hindu fundamentalists) burnt down our house. We fled the village for fear of life,” she said.

Lilabati Pradhan, a 75-year-old woman at the relief camp, agreed. “Something is better than nothing. But our pregnant women are suffering a lot,” she said.

The district administration has deployed an Auxiliary Nurse-Midwive (ANM) and some accredited social health workers in every camp to take care of the women and children.

“At least seven women have delivered babies from our camp and 39 more are expecting. Some are in the advanced stage,” said Sukesani Pradhan, the ANM in charge of a camp inside a high school campus in G. Udaygiri.

“We are checking their weight regularly and a doctor is visiting the campus as well. Once they report pain, we shift them to a nearby primary health centre,” Pradhan added. She said all the new mothers are in hospital.

At least 3,200 people, of whom over 55 percent are women and girls, are staying in the relief camp. There are seven such relief camps across Kandhamal in which over 11,000 displaced Christians are passing difficult days.

Aparajita Nayak, another pregnant woman in the same town, said: “I don’t know why this is happening. I don’t want to sleep on the ground, but I am happy here.”

According to District Collector Krishan Kumar, “At least 23,000 people were living in these camps but over 12,000 have already left the camps for their villages.”

Ever since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda, a Hindu religious leader, and four of his supporters by unidentified gunmen Aug 23, anti-Christian violence has been simmering in Kandhamal. While Maoist extremists have claimed responsibility for the murders, his supporters have been insisting that Christians are behind the murder. Orissa Police are investigating the case.

At least 38 people, including a CRPF personnel, have lost their lives in communal clashes and the fighting with security men following the violence.