In the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, pregnant women in Tamil Nadu are finding it difficult to get their health checked periodically, and the state government has left them to fend for themselves, with the promised financial assistance not being given for months.
S Shanthi (name changed), a resident of Kodambakkam in Chennai who got married in December, is four months pregnant now. “I consulted the nearby Primary Health Centre twice before the lockdown. After the lockdown, I went there only once and even then, the doctors were not there and I had to take the advice of a nurse there. Till now, I have not visited the doctor and even the doctors from private hospitals are asking us to consult over the phone,” she said.
Shanthi had applied for ‘Thaaliku Thangam’ (Gold for Mangalsutra), a marriage assistance scheme soon after her marriage in December. However, she is yet to receive any assistance under the scheme, which offers financial support and gold to make the ‘mangalsutra’ for daughters of poor parents and widows.
A girl who has passed Class X would be getting ₹25,000 and an undergraduate degree holder will receive a financial assistance of ₹50,000.
“Not just the marriage assistance scheme, I had also registered my pregnancy with the nearby Primary Health Centre and they had reconfirmed with me over the phone and gotten all my details. But, I am yet to receive both a marriage assistance scheme as well as financial assistance under the Dr. Muthulakshmi Maternity Benefit Scheme,” she said.
A fund of ₹18,000 for pregnant women under the Dr. Muthulakshmi Maternity Benefit Scheme would be distributed in five instalments. Soon after the antenatal registration, the first instalment of ₹2,000 would be disbursed, and after completion of the third month, another ₹2,000 would be disbursed. After four months, another instalment of ₹2,000 would be disbursed, ₹4,000 after delivery, and the rest of the amount would be disbursed after vaccinations.
However, Shanthi, who is now in her fourth month of pregnancy, is yet to receive the first instalment.
Shanthi is not the only pregnant woman who has not received it. Over 100 pregnant and/or married women are waiting for the marriage assistance funds and maternity benefits.
“We did not know COVID-19 would hit India and make our situation worse. During the marriage, we were confident about managing things on our own. But, after the lockdown, I didn’t get my salary for the month of April and I have to repay the loans that I borrowed during our marriage. We borrowed money, hoping we would be able to repay the loans with the marriage assistance funds. But, now we are forced to pay interest for the money that we borrowed apart from struggling for our survival,” said N Nagarathinam, a 24-year-old woman who got married in November 2019.
However, when asked about this, an official in the social welfare department who did not want to be named said they too have been struggling without funds for the schemes. “We had processed the applications received since December for the marriage assistance schemes and were planning to distribute the funds in the month of April. But, we did not receive funds for the scheme and we are waiting for the response from the government,” the official said.
Similarly, officials in the health and family welfare department whom The Federal spoke to, said all of them held up with COVID-19 work and that they could not process the applications. However, they also said the benefits of the maternity scheme should have reached people in most other districts except Chennai.