Under the Kishori Health Scheme (Kishori Shakti Yojna) adolescent girls are entitled to iron and calcium supplements and any required immunizations free of charge. Apart from this, sanitary napkins are to be made available every month, also free of charge. This scheme has been appointed by the Ministry of Health of Women and Children, and it is being run in separate states under this policy. The objective of the policy is to aid the education and movement of young girls, who, data shows in no uncertain terms, are wont to drop out of schooling systems once their period sets in.
Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are two states that have claimed a success of this Kishori Shakti Yojna has been. To explore this deeper, we reported specifically on this policy and its implementation at the rural level in some of the most backward areas of Bundelkhand.
In Sonava, Ambedkar Nagar, we met young girls, and asked them how much they knew about the scheme, and what benefits are they getting from it?
But not only was there very little to zero information about the Kishori Shakti Yojna here amongst the girls, and even their parents, but there was also no sight of any free stuff.
LACK OF INFORMATION?
The dissemination of information and the actual legwork of the yojna falls under the purview of the public servants working in the village, who are Asha workers, mostly, and informally called “Asha Bahus”.
When we speak with one such Asha Bahu Rita, in Ambedkar Nagar, she confirms for us that indeed there is no charge on sanitary pads “even though there is a price written on that packet”. “But free pads are provided here”, she says. When we ask if this is a regular practice, she frowns, “Well, once the pad was available here, it was only the one time.”
But the menstruation is every month, we persisted? But she did not respond.
Her counterpart in Faizabad Santosh Pandey, shares her disappointment clearly when she says that in her village there has never been a pad even now, “not even a single packet”. In addition, they have never seen iron and calcium tablets at the Community Health Center either, which is the one-stop venue and the first line of medical care access for a villager. “This centre has been functional for over a year now, but nothing of the sort has ever come here.” Santosh ji added that she herself goes to the district hospital and brings back these “required things” for the girls, but then she cannot just distribute them for free. “After all, I spend money on coming and going. Who will pay for that?” A fair question, we think, and she’s quick to add that she charges only a nominal fee.
The number of girls buying sanitary pads at low prices are many in the village. Troubled by menstrual problems and social restraints, there is a quiet revolution brewing even at the village level amongst girls tired of being told they are dirty during those days and all the restrictions. But this revolution is churning without or despite well-meaning government schemes.
Pushpa, 15, of Tandouli village, Faizabad, for instance, is not aware of iron tablets, or other free facilities she is entitled to – or indeed the physical need for them – but she does opt for pads by paying money. Sanju Devi of Ambedkar Nagar tells us that her daughter gets information about staying clean in school, and that she also comes back and shares it with her mother.
The Community Health Center Superintendent here, Anshuman Gupta, is unequivocal when he says that they distribute fairly what comes their way. “Like, right now, we are distributing iron and calcium pills because they have been made available to us. Pads have not been coming for quite a few months now.” He retorts back to our line of questioning, “How can we distribute what’s not there?” Good question, that