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For expecting mothers in Assam's remote tea gardens, Arpana Choudhury is a godsend

By Samar Srivastava Forbes India Staff
Published: Feb 14, 2017

After studying law I vectored towards journalism by accident and it's the only job I've done since. It's a job that has taken me on a private jet to Jaisalmer - where I wrote India's first feature on fractional ownership of business jets - to the badlands of west UP where India's sugar economy is inextricably now tied to politics. I'm a big fan of new business models and crafty entrepreneurs. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of those in Asia at the moment.

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Arpana Choudhury | 25
Associate, Assam Justice Program, Nazdeek
Category: Law, Policy & Politics


In eastern Assam’s Sonitpur district, adivasis working in tea gardens are often denied access to basic government services. With pregnant women, this problem is particularly acute. For instance, the Rs 1,400 a month they are entitled to under the government’s Janani Suraksha Yojana, in most cases, doesn’t reach them. Ambulances are rarely available. The result: The state has among the highest maternal mortality rates in India.

These women have been Arpana Choudhury’s focus since she joined the End Maternal Mortality Now project (www.endmmnow.org) in June 2014, a month after it started. EndMMNow is funded by three agencies: Nazdeek, a legal empowerment organisation; ICAAD, a US-based human rights organisation; and PAJHRA (Promotion and Advancement of Justice, Harmony and Rights of Adivasis). Choudhury, who studied to be a journalist, had a ring-side view to these challenges when she worked with PAJHRA in Tejpur, also in Sonitpur district. Equipped with that understanding, Choudhury trained 18 paralegals to assess and report violations of the rights of adivasis under the National Health Mission.

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These lapses—which range from the unavailability of ambulances to broken-down ultrasound machines—are now reported by these paralegals with the help of specific codes (each code refers to a specific kind of lapse) via text messages. Locations with service deficiencies are mapped and the EndMMNow website is updated every day. Once Choudhury receives the text message, she calls the volunteer to get more information and assesses how to deal with the situation: By talking with the health authorities concerned, by reporting it to the police, or by filing a Right to Information application.

Choudhury says ultrasound machines are now being repaired and rations to women are being distributed on schedule.

It is painstaking ground work often ignored by city-based NGOs. Vrinda Grover, a lawyer and human rights activist, says, “It is unpardonable that a majority of these issues, like labour issues, are being ignored by NGOs. I think very highly of young people who are doing work like this on the ground and away from big cities.”

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(This story appears in the 17 February, 2017 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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