The faces of district health officials tailing the motley group grew longer and gloomier as this surprise visit to one of the country’s 7.8 lakh anganwadi centres turned into a graphic illustration of that oft-heard phrase, "failure of the delivery system". But, for a new MP-led, UNICEF-supported ‘Citizen’s Initiative’ that says it has been galvanised into action by the shameful findings on malnourished children from the latest National Family Health Survey, it was a fitting start. Poor monitoring and lack of accountability in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDs), of which anganwadi services are the pivot, are not the only reasons why 46 per cent of Indian children remain undernourished (a figure virtually unchanged from six years ago). But they are vital ones. The young MPs, who stressed during the train journey from Delhi that their bipartisan pressure group wants to get beyond Delhi committee rooms and grapple with the ground realities of malnutrition, got reality alright.
In Madhya Pradesh, which has the country’s highest percentage of malnourished children under three, reality is hard to avoid—even when it comes disguised, as it did at the next village. Rampura, also Sahariya-dominated, was well-prepared. This was clear from the welcoming thalis, the mattresses laid out under trees, the weighing machine dangling prominently, the agile gyrations of the elderly anganwadi incharge, Rani Sharma, who played with her clapping wards, and said that she had fed them rava ki kheer (semolina pudding). "This is a put-up job," said Sule suspiciously, and she was right. It only took a few conversations—and some telling statistics, such as 96 underweight kids out of 102—to get a bitter taste of the truth.