Red-hot iron rods cure (?) tribal ailments

For them God has died young

BJ Mirror Correspondent

Will you believe that ill-fed children with distend bellies are inadvertently killed in tribal Jharkhand? Red-hot iron rods are pierced into their sides by superstitious and poverty-stricken tribal parents under the blind faith that it will cure all stomach ailments. The belief: A child with a protruding belly has worms, which can be killed by plunging a red-hot iron through the sides of the stomach. “The more a child cries and screams during the treatment, more germs are being killed”, said a tribal. He was lucky to survive this most barbaric treatment at the tender age of three years.

Hunger Tale

Lucky to survive the red-hot iron rod treatment in Jharkhand

Majority of children die after the treatment though the official would not admit this hard fact. The old belief dies hard even among highly literate tribal families. In Jharkhand’s most literate (69 per cent) district of East Singhbhum, a Santhal tribe village headman of Mirgitand, Ravi Tuddu proudly say: “We have firm faith in this method”. Jharkhand’s 17 of 24 districts are classified as ‘food insecure’, yet the fruits of development still elude the poor and innocent adivasis.

At the Ravi Tuddu’s bidding, children bare their bodies to show the ugly scars, some still raw. The maiming of children speaks volumes about Jharkhand’s healthcare disaster. With just 330 primary health centres against the requirement of 806 units, the state is short of 1,099 health sub-centres, seven community health centres and 8,000 health workers. A newspaper rightly concluded that East Singhbhum’s challenges of poverty are far beyond statistics. Majority of tribal children eat wild berries and ants mainly because almost every social-security programme, theoretically serving as cradle-to-grave buffers against destitution, had failed them. The poor in the belt has no access to five major poverty alleviation national schemes (subsidised food, child health care, mid-day meals, job for work and old-age pensions).

Jharkhand’s Special Secretary (Health) admitted the failure of “proper monitoring mechanism” for doctors and health staff. The state bedevilled by perpetual political instability has one qualified doctor for a population of 10,000. Moreover, Jharkhand’s government doctors are among the worst paid in the country. A simple MBBS is paid Rs 22,000 against Rs 35,000 given in Bihar. Unsurprisingly, of 2,468 doctors recruited by Jharkhand five years ago, 2,200 have left the state, said the Jharkhand IMA.

Protruding bellies is a characteristic of patients suffering from malaria, kala-azar, blood cancer, or typhoid and they can be cured if “rushed to doctors on time”. But,this is not possible. For most of tribal families in the region the nearest PHC is 35 km away. And there is no public transport. The tribals are caught in a vicious circle. They can not be persuaded to eschew the age-old belief unless proper healthcare reached them. And, adequate healthcare is like asking for a moon. For them the God seems to have died young!

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