Children in Vagad bear scars on their body. But in this far-off stretch in eastern Kutch, the permanent mutilation is not a result of any disease — it is left by branding on the neck or other parts of the body that locals believe prevents many: mainly tuberculosis.
While an array vaccines are a must for newborns the world over, two remote Vagad talukas, Rapar and Bhachau, still depend on witch doctors, and their bizarre and illegal methods. “Branding is practised here as a vaccine against what is locally known as suk gadu — the thinning of the neck which occurs because of the combined effects of childhood tuberculosis and malnutrition,’’ said Dr Rajesh Jeswani, a Gandhidham -based paediatrician who visits the Vagad area once a week. “It is done not only in interior villages but also in the roadside ones like Gagodar and Palansva.”
But the chief district health officer of Vagad, Dr D K Dabi, appears to be unaware of it all. “No one from my department has brought this (branding) to my notice. This is a very serious matter. I am now seeking reports from my staff in Rapar and Bhachau talukas.’’
Another doctor, Shailesh Dungrani of Bhachau, confirms the practice is rampant. He says he has seen and treated hundreds of case of branding in their Vagad area: “Most branding cases come in a highly deteriorated condition and we have to refer them to child specialists in nearby Gandhidham.”
Why do the villagers stick to such a practice when there are medical facilities available, though ill-run? Blame it mainly on superstition, he said. Branding, done with hot iron rods, incense sticks and pieces of hot wire, “is practised out of superstition as witch doctors do not charge a single paisa for their services,’’ Jeswani said, adding that it was illegal to brand.
But remoteness from medical centres is a greater reason, especially in areas like the Rann island-based Dholavira village, for instance. Said village leader Velubha Sodha: ‘’We are 250 km away from the district headquarters and 100 km from our taluka headquarters, Bhachau. We have had a medical centre for three years, but it has remained closed all the time as no medical staff live here.”
He said in his village, inhabited predominantly by Kolis, branding is common. ‘’My village has an 85-year-old woman who brands children. She inherited the branding technique from her own mother and every sick child first goes to her,’’ said Dashrath Makawani, a Koli from Rav village in Rapar taluka.
A few days ago, Dr Jeswani received three critical cases of branded children. Chetan and Rahul, brothers aged four and two, and 10-year-old Asmita bore septic branding marks on their abdomen. All three were suffering from acute cerebral malaria.
“The branding had made their conditions worse and they were near dead, but modern medicine saved their lives,’’ said the doctor. He said branding was most prevalent in the very backward communities of the area: Kolis, Bharvads and Muslims. But even the upper castes use the method. He said children suffering from convulsions and brain-fever were branded on the forehead whereas those with respiratory diseases, on their chests. For malaria, the branding area is abdomen, targeting the parts where enlarged liver and spleen protrude. Jeswani once reported some cases to the police, but it had the adverse effect: The people with branding infections stopped coming for treatment.
Courtesy - Indian Express - New Delhi,India