Field Notes #2: Amar sagar
On 6, November 2008 Erik and I traveled with Vuta Ram-ji to Amar sagar, which is about 15-20 kilometers from Jaisalmer. We met with 6-10 women and many more infants and children at the government children’s center in the village. In addition to the village women, we also met the ANM that has been assigned to and living in Amar sagar for a few years. The women were very frank, animated, and direct with us throughout the field visit. Throughout the whole meeting, there were lots of little babies and children wandering around and playing. Some of the women would get up to take care of a child or go home, and another would come and take her place. This was an open and playful environment and interaction with the women and this led to an extremely productive field visit.
In response to our first question, “What is the different in a boy birth and a girl birth?” one of the women pointed to another woman. The first woman told us that this other woman has six children. She first had five girls and was very sad after each birth, but then she finally had a boy and was very happy. We asked why there was so much sadness after the birth of girls and were told that it is because girls marry and move to another house. Girls are also a burden because you have to pay dowry when the girl is married. I asked if boys and girls are treated differently after they are born, and was told that boys and girls are fed the same and go to school together (which is different than in Chandan, for example, where boys and girls go to school separately). However, girls only go to 8th standard because after that they have to go to Jaisalmer for secondary school and it is believed that that is too far away for girls.
We were also told that there are more boys than girls in the village. However, the women told us that the reason for the larger number of boys was “god-given.” It is my understanding after talking with Vimla-ji and Vuta-Ram that this is not actually true. There are medical interventions that occur to abort female fetuses, but none of the women in this group would talk about it, and I didn’t know where my place was to push the question further, especially since Vuta-Ram had to translate my questions. I asked the women what happens when a couple has had all the children they want to have and was told that at that time, women will have a sterilization operation, if the husband wants. The women said that it is the husband’s decision if this operation takes place or not, but no men will get the operation done themselves. It is believed that if men have a vasectomy, it will make them weak. I asked the women why their husbands make the decisions concerning their bodies, and they said, “Where will we go if we don’t listen to what he wants?” They were married into his family and live in his house and often don’t have economic independence or employment outside of the home, so they have to listen to their husband’s choices because otherwise they will be “put out.”
The women all stated that they don’t really like dowry, but it is their system and culture, and so they have to do it. When I asked the women if they liked being women, they all stated that if they could have asked god, they would have asked to be men. They would prefer to be men because men can come and go as they please, and there is also a big problem with smoking and alcohol, which only the men take part in. The women said that their husbands are different when they drink and cause lots of problem, like coming home and hitting the wives and children. They said that they think the government should do something to help with this problem. I asked the women if they want to change the way the men act, and they said that they do, but that they can’t because the men are in charge and make the decisions in the house. There is no women’s group in this village and it seems as if the women, even though they are aware of their secondary status and subservient role in the home, don’t what steps to take to change this situation.
Since the village Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) was present, I took advantage of the opportunity to ask her about her work with the women and children in the village. The government placed her in Amar sagar. She has been living and working there for a few years. She was just 24 years old and has two children. She was married at age 16. She doesn’t see the different number of boys and girls as a problem in the village. She said that her job is just to record the births, administer medicines and vitamins and take care of vaccinations. She did tell us that she get more pay from families when a boy is born than when a girl is born.
The majority of the women we spoke to had been married between the ages of 9-18. There were a couple of women that had been married as late as 30. All of the women had arranged marriages. They told us the story of a couple from the village that recently had a love marriage conducted at the local temple, but were now sitting in prison because the girl’s family had called the police on them.
Erik and I were both very pleased with all of the information and stories that were shared during this meeting. The women enjoyed laughing and joking with us, even amidst very serious discussion topics. The women invited me to stay in their village and to arrange a marriage for me, which we think was partially in-joke, and partially in seriousness. We really enjoyed this meeting, but I also couldn’t help but be saddened and surprised by the responses that all of the women wished to be men, that the women and their children face domestic violence that is related to alcohol abuse, that so many of the women explained that they do not have the power to make decisions concerning their own bodies, and that the women for the most part feel disempowered to do anything about their situations. I was also surprised by the ANM’s response that she doesn’t see the different in numbers of boys and girls in the village as a problem. She also didn’t think there were any issues or problems related to women and children in the village. This makes me wonder about the training of ANM’s and their effectiveness in communities. I remember having a conversation with Becky Ford, a past MSID student, where she told me that often the ANM’s work in the village is only as effective as the ANM herself. If the ANM is motivated and active, then there is the potential for good work to be done, but this can go the opposite way as well. I am not trying to place a value judgment on this particular ANM. I am just offering my observations about her opinion of her role in the village and in service to women and children.