Orissa: Death dances in valley of neglect, apathy

16 Sep

Akshaya Kumar Sahoo in THE ASIAN AGE

Ghasian Majhi, 20, a resident of Miangpadar in the poverty-stricken Kal-ahandi district, looks desperately for someone who can help her to protect her two little daughters — Sumita Majhi and Sumitra Majhi. The one-year-old Sumita and Sumitra, 3, are undernourished and are at present fighting malnutrition.

Ghasian’s neighbour, 20-year-old Laxmi Majhi, died of cholera on September 2, leaving behind her three-month old baby Shanti in the custody of her grandfather Ghasiram Majhi.

At least 10 children in their locality have died in the last four weeks in cholera. A lot many children are at present down with the dreaded disease. Not only children, 50 adults, both male and female, have perished of cholera in the last one month.

Over 5,000 others in 13 panchayats under Lanjigarh and Bhawanipatna blocks, who are cholera-affected, are waging a battle between life and death.

The disease, which is seen more as a fallout of the state government’s alleged failure to provide basic healthcare facilities and civic amenities to the people living in forest areas of the district, appears all set to spread further into the neighbouring villages because of continuous awareness drive either by the state government officials or non-governmental agencies to persuade the affected people to take medicines and pure drinking water. Add to this, the absence of good road communication network to the affected pockets has stood in the way of timely intervention by the health officials.

Miangpadar is a small tribal hamlet located under the foothill of Kirangaghati hills, just 25 km from Bhawanipatna, the district headquarters of Kalahandi district. It is one of several villages where cholera has unleashed its spell of destruction. Villages like Jamchua, Panchbahili, Rukuni Badel, Tenganabahili Bandelguda, Ghatikunduru, Talbora, Tarngel, Bondkali, Jalkrida, Dominijholia, Kenduguda, Chachagoan, Barguda, Pedimguda, Chatabanduguda, Kedndupith, Borpadar, Borakhoje and Merkul are now under the grips of the disease, nakedly exposing the lapses of the state administration in taking precautionary and preventive steps.

Kalahandi Lok Sabha member Bhakta Charan Das, who actually first brought to light the outbreak of the disease in the area, says, contrary to the claim of the state government of providing quality life to the tribals, people in the district are living in abject poverty and deprivation.

“The affected pockets, which come under Lanjigarh constituency, were represented by a ruling BJD member for over 20 years. But it still remains in underdeveloped. Basic healthcare, education and minimum civic amenities are still distant dreams for people living in those villages. Majority of the people do not have purchasing power; they do not get 35 kg rice as entitled under Annapurna Antodoya Yojana. The Union government’s flagship programme — National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — is also not properly implemented in the area,” alleges Mr Das.

Purna Majhi, a resident of Miangpadar, says although he had worked for few days in an NRGS work last year, he has not yet received his remuneration.

One can find people in the area are still surviving on traditional, unhygienic mushrooms and Karida (bamboo-roots), thus exposing themselves to food poisoning. Bulging bellies of children adequately makes a statement of undernourishment and malnutrition. Infants are fed with water-rice and forest produces.

“We do not have money to buy cows nor can we afford for milk as we do not have regular income,” says 35-year-old Lalu Majhi, father of four children. The poor condition of the villagers were explicitly visible at Malati Majhi’s house. Her four year daughter Basanti was seen just managing without any clothes while the seven-year-old Shanti was trying to cover her body with torn saree.

According to Bharat Bhusan Bemal, a social worker and former local legislator, the disease broke out because of the carelessness of the authorities.

“Most of the villages do not have tube-wells. People are forced to drink contaminated waters of streams, rivers and rivulets. Although there are some tube-wells and dug wells in the affected villages, they were lying defunct and disinfected. Only after loss of some many lives, the government woke up and repaired them,” adds Mr Bemal.

Niranjan Pradhan, ex-chairman Bhawanipatna Municipality, blames the state administration for not taking preventive steps to check the spread of the disease.

“Much before the present catastrophe, the state administration knew well the wretched condition of the people. But, never did it created infrastructure such as bridges and roads to make the area accessible for mobilisation of doctors and para-medics,” says Mr Pradhan. Mr Pradhan, however, praises district administration headed by collector R. Santhangopalan for his efforts to reach out to the people distress.

“The collector is camping day and night in the affected pockets and trying his best to mobilise medical teams to the affected pockets.

“Things are now under control. At the peak time, we had engaged 30 medical teams and but now the number has been reduced 10. I hope within a very short time, we will get rid over the situation,” informs the collector. The collector puts the death figure at 27.,-apathy.aspx


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