Pre-school blues

We decided to walk away from the dam and lake. The flat land rose gently towards Kalsubai peak. A road wound through the rolling countryside. We would follow the road, more or less, to avoid getting lost. This side of the plateau was less well off. Perhaps the land was not as productive as that closer to the dam. A thin soil covered the porous laterite rocks. The red mud of this area was a clear indication of the geology. Immediately after the mosoon the waters would drain away, leaving a dry parched land. It showed in the village.

Across the country, Anganwadis are essential nodes in primary health care and pre-school education for children. One essential service it provides is to track childhood nourishment, and give food to malnourished children. The pandemic has interrupted this service for the first time since it was set up by the central government in 1975. We saw a closed center. A few pre-school children hung around it, and ran away when they saw me. As I took photos, they came back slowly to stare.

Next to it was a primary school. The walls contained early-school material. Schools have been shut for almost two years now. Elementary schools provide a mid-day meal. In a poor village like this, the meal is an essential component of childhood nutrition. That is another source of food shut now. This is happening at the same time that incomes have fallen, because the few people in the village who worked in towns have lost their jobs.

It isn’t just this one Anganwadi which was closed. In the more prosperous part of the plateau, between the dam and the highway, we’d seen others also shut. Some educationists are lobbying to get governments to continue to provide children’s meals even during this pandemic. A shortfall in nutrition affects children very crucially. The effects on India’s rural population won’t be visible till the middle of the century.