By Vivek Prakash
It’s an experience I will never forget. I have no children of my own, but when the day does come, maybe I’ll be just a little bit more prepared for it.
I had come a long, long way from my usual cosmopolitan stomping ground of Mumbai, to a place just about as far interior as you can go in India. I was about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Rajasthan border in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in a village of about 700 people. This is very, very small by Indian standards. There were dusty roads that a car could barely fit down, mud houses, a scorching heat during the day which turned to a deep chill at night.
I had many ideas in my head and many questions too – what kind of emotions was I going to experience and witness? Should I be excited, or should I feel like an intruder, given the subject matter I was here to shoot? I had come a long way to shoot this, but now, standing in this little rural community health center with my camera, I felt conflicted.
Out here, in a remote place bordering a wild national park where camels from the Rajasthan deserts roam in search of water and foliage, medical services – let alone medical services for women – are at their most basic. Chharchh is big for this region. Most people are still living in tiny hamlets on the edges of fields and rivers, in small communities so isolated that when the rains come, they may not see other human beings for 3 months until the flooding recedes and the road becomes passable again.
I came to answer a question that had been in my mind since I did a story on a village full of bachelors last year – what about the flip side of the coin – what about women in rural India, what were maternity services like for them? I wondered how, in the deep interior of this vast country, anyone could provide meaningful and safe services. I worked in close coordination with a few doctors and facilitators from the state government, who were trailing an innovative idea in partnership with UNICEF.