July 23, 2001
Issue


 

COVER
   

The Lost Nation
General Musharraf is on the offensive, wielding unlimited powers and taking on the establishment in a bid to whip a battered nation back into shape. But will he succeed? Plus an exclusive interview with the Pakistan President.

Travels In
Veiled Reality
From an optimistic country to one draped in despondency, it's a journey through a nation transformed.

Candle In Wagah Wind Track II diplomacy, the citizen-led campaign for Indo-Pak peace, has bloated into a virtual industry.

 

 
BUSINESS
   

Comeback Drive
After two years in reverse gear and scarred by a dented marketshare, India's largest car maker shifts into top gear. With bold new launches and fresh strategies, it strides back into reckoning to regain part of the lost market.

 

 
SPORTS
 

Steering Under Test Even as Indian rally drivers rev up for overseas competition, motorsport within the country takes a beating. A sport that holds enormous revenue potential for the country is stalled by petty politicking as two rival organisations fight for the right to be called the official governing body.

 

 
HEALTH
 

Spray Of Misery
Crippled bodies and minds is a way of life for many in the villages of north Kerala.

 

 
OTHER STORIES
     
 



 
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HEALTH : PESTICIDE MENACE

Spray Of Misery

Villagers in north Kerala suffer from mental and physical deficiencies. Is it the pesticide showered on cashew plantations that is behind their pain?

CRIPPLING EFFECT: Bharath can neither walk nor talk

Life in Swarga, however evocative the name of the village, is far from heavenly. Nestled among areca and cashew plantations in Kerala's Kasargod district, it is a hellish land plagued by diseases and suffering.

Ask Aithappa Naik, a farmhand. His son, Balakrishna, 6, developed very high fever two months ago. The doctor said the fever would go away. But when it didn't, the worried parents took the boy to Father Muller's Hospital in Mangalore. A few tests later Balakrishna was diagnosed for cancer. Paediatrician K.V. Shenoy advised chemotherapy. The family's last trip to the hospital was on May 18. "We have already spent close to Rs 20,000," says Naik. "We have pawned all the jewellery we had. It is becoming very difficult to treat our son now."

PAINFUL EXISTENCE: Vasantha, seen here with his ageing father, leads a crippled life

A few blocks away from Naik's house, in Nathanige hamlet, is the home of four-year-old Nizamuddin who is mentally challenged. "This is not a unique case," says his mother. "There are lots of children in this area who are not normal. We don't have the money or the resources to find a cure for them." These are the harsh realities of life in Swarga and the villagers have to endure them stoically.

Forbearance too is the only option for Hukappa Gowda, a farm worker who doubles as a autorickshaw driver. His daughter Mamatha, 17, is confined to a corner in his home near Swarga. "Ever since she was four, she has not been able to walk properly and she understand only a little," says Gowda. Initially doctors thought it was epilepsy. That was 12 years ago. Her condition has not improved. "Every year there is some complication or the other and we don't know what to do," adds the harassed father. "We now feel it is best to leave her alone because we have no resources to take care of her."

A stone's throw from Mamatha's house, five-year-old Bharath crawls on a filthy floor, naked. His mother Umavathi is frustrated. Her husband Ellianna Gowda, a driver, visits her once a week. She has to look after her son alone: "Bharath cannot walk or talk. He just sleeps. There are no doctors here, nobody to care for us. There is no government support at all."

Home after home in this village have similar tales to tell. Physical deformities, cancers and disorders of the central nervous system are common, as Dr Mohana Kumar V.S. discovered. Twenty years ago, he set up a clinic in Vaninagar village near Padre village where more than 150 of the 2,000-odd inhabitants had severe health problems. While children bore the brunt of afflictions, their parents fell prey to cancer, epilepsy, psychiatric disorders and congenital anomalies. In some cases entire families were in trouble.

Nobody knows for sure why this little pocket on the border of Kerala and Karnataka in the pristine Western Ghats should suffer like this, but most blame it on aerial spraying of pesticides, particularly Endosulfan, in the cashew plantations of the Kerala Government undertaking, the Plantations Corporation of Kerala (PCK).

"Strange illnesses have afflicted these villages and there is no thorough study on why this is so," says Kumar. "There are around 300 cases of various kinds of abnormalities in just this small area." An enumeration in January in the 4-sq km Padre village, home to about 400 families, showed three cancer patients, 23 epilepsy patients, 46 cancer deaths, 23 mental and 43 psychiatric cases, nine congenital anomalies and nine suicides-adding up to 156 instances of health problems. Another doctor working in the region, Shripati Kajampady, says, "We have seen a gradual deterioration in the quality of life here. There are more people struck by diseases here than in other villages. There is something definitely wrong."

One of the most distressing cases was that of 11-month-old Sainaba of Bovikanna village. Suffering from a hydrocephalus, a condition in which the head swells due to accumulation of fluid, Sainaba died on June 4. Her parents Shafi and Jameela had no idea why their child was suffering thus. The Baby Memorial Hospital had even waived the operation fees for the child but in vain.

Marginally luckier is Shruti, 7, who survived infancy but has a tough life ahead. Born with three deformed limbs, she hops around on one leg and cannot even walk to the school 100 m away. Her father is an odd jobs man at a farm, her mother died of cancer. The odds she has to fight against are high and so far no NGO or welfare organisation has come forward to help her achieve her dream to attend school. Shruti's neighbour Avinash, 10, has cerebral palsy and asthma. His father works as a labourer, his mother rolls beedis for a living. "He still gets fits off and on but we cannot give him medicines because there is no money to buy them," says the father. At 20 Narayan Naik is twice Avinash's age but of the same height- 3 ft. He also suffers from skin disorders. His father Devappa Naik, however, is not taking this lying down. He is one of the petitioners who have approached the Kerala High Court against the aerial spraying of Endosulfan.


 
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