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Birhor Benefit from a Health Center

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Photojournalist Tanmoy Bhaduri provided an upbeat assessment last week of an Anganwadi center, located in a Birhor community in a remote corner of India’s Jharkhand State. He met a Birhor woman who is trying to improve the health and nutrition of the women and children in the village, the primary mission of India’s Anganwadi centers.

Birhor woman with children

Birhor woman with children (Screen capture from the video “Birhor—a Tribe Displaced for Nothing” by VideoVolunteers on YouTube, Creative Commons license)

Pinky Birhor is employed by the Anganwadi center at the unnamed colony, which has about 100 families living in it. Her biggest challenge has been to get pregnant women and lactating mothers to come into the center for health exams. The women are scared of medicines and injections because of their beliefs, Pinky said. She added that Birhor rituals require pregnant women to stay in their leaf huts, cut off from the world, and to deliver their own children.

“I would say my biggest achievement has been to get the women to the hospital for their delivery. There was a lot of resistance but once a few women came back with healthy babies, they started believing in me,” Ms. Birhor told Mr. Bhaduri.

One of the pregnant mothers confirmed the value of Pinky’s work. She told the writer that part of the problem is that workers from other sectors of Indian society may have strong prejudices against the untouchable adivasi people. “The worker who was here before Pinky wouldn’t even touch the children. How can you take care of them if you can’t even touch them? We trust Pinky because she is one of us. She wouldn’t do anything to harm our kids or us,” the woman said.

Birhor woman being interviewed about the polluted water in their Jharkhand village

Birhor woman being interviewed about the polluted water in their Jharkhand village (Screen capture from the video “Birhor Community Becoming Extinct at Lohadanda, Koderma, Jainagar, Jharkhand” by VideoVolunteers on YouTube, Creative Commons license)

Pinky also has made a successful beginning in her campaign to convince the Birhor in the community about the importance of cleanliness. She says it is easier to imprint new ways of acting on the children. She insists that the kids take baths before coming to the Anganwadi center and she requires them to wash their hands before eating breakfasts, habits that the adults don’t have, at least not yet.

Another cause that Pinky has taken up is getting enough food for the colony. The Anganwadi program provides only a minimum amount of food for the residents; with help from a local NGO she has gotten the Birhor involved in gardening so they can grow their own vegetables. She tells Bhaduri, with obvious pride, that the children are now getting enough nutrition. “You can see it helps because they fall ill less often,” she brags to the journalist.

Women in a Birhor hamlet in Jharkhand

Women with a child in a Birhor hamlet in Jharkhand (Screen capture from the video “Birhor Community Becoming Extinct at Lohadanda, Koderma, Jainagar, Jharkhand” by VideoVolunteers on YouTube, Creative Commons license)

He is clearly impressed by Ms. Birhor. Despite not having enough financial support for the needs of the preschool children and the mothers in the colony, she does not give up. “These are our kids. They will grow up to become the future of this community. I cannot let their future be affected,” she asserts.

The author generalizes about the Birhor in this colony that they are “still surviving on their hunting and gathering skills,” though the only additional information he provides about their economic pursuits is his brief narrative about the recent gardening venture that Pinky inspired. An Indian anthropologist, Rajesh Pankaj (2008), provided more details about the economic activities of the Birhor in Jharkhand. He found during his fieldwork from 2002 – 2005 that representations of the Birhor as simply hunters and gatherers are no longer correct.

A few have taken up agriculture but not too many. However, it is safe to say that many are shifting at least some of their economic pursuits to part-time laboring on farms, to working in local industries such as brick kilns, and to pulling rickshaws. While hunting and gathering remain the primary source of food for most of them, they are not exclusively foragers any longer.

 

A Zapotec Renaissance Man

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A Zapotec physicist who was originally from Juchitán, Oaxaca, is planning to translate Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, an essential work of western science, into his native language.

The title page of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, first edition of 1687

The title page of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, first edition of 1687 (Photo in Wikimedia, in the public domain)

According to an article in Mexico News Daily, Feliciano Carrasco Regalado is confident that his translation will be useful. In contrast to his detractors who argue that the work is too complex to be translated successfully into an indigenous language, Carrasco maintains that while the equations may be inaccessible to many and the formulas may cause some terror, “a native person of my language would understand [the Principia Mathematica] very well.”

He said that he has run into similar prejudices before toward the indigenous Zapotec people and their understanding of complex theories. He met such prejudicial attitudes when he was invited to lecture about Einstein’s theory of relativity. One person commented to another academic, “How can you promote this Indian?” when it was clear that the speaker, Carrasco, was a Zapotec.

Feliciano Carrasco singing a Zapotec song

Feliciano Carrasco singing a Zapotec song (Photo by Alejandra Méndez, Secreatría de Cultura CDMX in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

To judge by the article, Carrasco is more than a scientist: he is, himself, a Renaissance man. He is a musician who composes songs that he sings in Zapotec. He has recorded them in five albums and a number of them are available on YouTube.

He takes a lot of pride in sharing his love for mathematics with his students. Beyond that, he promotes the Mexican indigenous cultures and he teaches the Zapotec language at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) in Mexico City. He also teaches Zapotec at the Macario Matus Cultural Center, where he is the director. He is a member of the Mexican Academy of Language, a prestigious organization that strives to keep the Spanish language pure.

 




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