Visit the Banjara thandas of the state bordering Andhra Pradesh and you confront the stark reality of their poverty. It is here that women are driven to killing their baby girls after giving birth to them as they cannot afford to raise them. Some indulge in the infanticide as they are afraid their husbands could desert them for other women who can give them sons.
Chairperson of the state women’s commission, C Manjula, who rushed to these thandas recently following media reports about baby girls being starved to death by their poverty- stricken mothers, got to hear the tragic stories for herself. “I’m very poor and cannot afford to bring up my children. As I have two daughters already, when I gave birth to a girl again I tried to starve her to death by not breastfeeding her. But then I couldn't bear to hear her cries and began to feed her again," confessed one Banjara woman, Kavitha Vittal Rathod, who like many others in the Vanti Chintea Thanda of Chincholi taluk leads a hand-to-mouth existence.
So poor is Kavitha that she had to begin working as a coolie a fortnight after she delivered her baby. “I earn Rs 50 a day which is not enough”, she lamented. Kavitha lives with her three daughters and old mother-in-law in a 10X 12 ft mud house with a stone roof . Her husband, like most able bodied men of the thanda, works in Mumbai.
As she has toyed with the idea of giving up her baby girl for adoption after deciding to let her live, Ms Manjula informed her that state run orphanages too could take care of her children if she so wanted. She also suggested she should undergo a tubectomy now that her two daughters had received bonds under the Bhagyalakshmi scheme of the government. Besides meeting the women of the thanda Ms Manjula also met a group of Banjara community leaders, who arrived at the thanda on hearing of her visit.
What struck her was the abject poverty of Banjara families, neglect by the district administration and the lack of awareness. As she moved on to the nearby Vanti Gudise thanda, the story was repeated all over again. Here, a Banjara woman, Kavitha Chavan, who had five daughters, said she had tried to give her last child to an orphanage for adoption as she couldn’t afford to take care of them.