Guwahati: Advent of cell phones has changed the ball game of communication. Short Message Service (SMS) has added feather to the cap making communication faster and user friendly. A non-profit project End Maternal Mortality Now (EMMNow) is using the modern communication technique of text messaging or SMS to empower Adivasi women of Narayanpur tea estate, located about 50 km west from Tezpur, the headquarters of Sonitpur district in North Assam.
Assam is one of the notorious states with maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 300 deaths per 100,000 live births, the worst in India and nearly the same as Ghana (321) and Sudan (325).
The non-profit project trains volunteers from local communities–like Geeti–to help mothers know their rights and report officials who deny them access to free government services. This is done via a text message to an Android phone co-owned by the project staff and synced with their website.
“It’s your duty to get regular check-ups done, to ensure that both you and your child are disease-free. And protest if you’re treated unfairly while seeking treatment,” said Geeti (name changed), a paralegal coordinator with the project.
Few men, children, and about 40 women–either pregnant or cradling infants attentively listened to Geeti who spoke in local Sadri dialect but when she mentioned that they are entitled to receive free check-ups, blood tests and medicines during pregnancy, almost all of them interrupted in unison to say that they seldom received anything for free.
Over the last three years, the text-message-borne empowerment of Adivasi women has carried out extensively across 16 tea gardens, villages and public health facilities in two blocks of Sonitpur district. As many as 40 women have been trained to circulate the word, and the programme’s success has enthused enthusiasm among Dalit women in Delhi.
More than 230 violations have been reported by paralegals under the EndMMNow project since 2014, 91 of which related to payment demands for free medical services, such as blood tests, transfusions, ambulance and medicines, and 82 about denial of entitlements by an anganwadi centre, such as take-home rations and food benefits guaranteed under a government scheme to ensure safe maternity.