KACHHARIADIH, India, (AFP) – Villagers here would rather die than live. With 90 percent of the population crippled, few feel there is much to look forward to.
The village in the eastern Indian state of Bihar has 300 people including 50 children who cannot walk without sticks or parental support.
“What’s the use of life as a cripple? What’s the future of such kids?” asked Karoo Rajwanshi, whose children are themselves crippled.
“It’s better than they die. Being shocked for a few days is better than daily pain and tears,” he said.
Kachhariadih, in Bihar’s Nawada district 210 kilometers (130 miles) south of the state capital Patna, has won the morose nickname as “the village surviving on bamboo sticks.” But even after publicity in local media, the village says little has been done to change their plight.
While the exact cause of the massive disabilities here remains a mystery, the most common hypothesis is that the water supply has an excessive amount of fluoride, the chemical used to clean teeth but which, in a different dose, can serve as rat poison.
A recent survey by an official commission here found the drinking water had eight [ppm] fluoride — way above the permissible 1.5 [ppm].
Whatever the reason, the effects on the village are unmistakable. Most children above age two have twisted legs and bent backs and scream in pain if anyone touches the arched joints of their limbs.
Few adults can stand erect either, and many have backs bent in beyond 45 degrees.
“I used to make my living pulling a rickshaw but my back is bent and I’m in such pain in my joints and backbone. I fear I could die of starvation,” said Santosh Rajvanshi, 30.
The district administration has no choice but to acknowledge the village has a grim problem, but it pins the blame on leaders higher up.
“A team of experts inspected the village and had suggested the entire village be shifted somewhere else as the fluoride contamination in the drinking water was too high,” said N. Vijay Lakshmi, Nawada district’s magistrate.
She said the state government of Bihar, India’s poorest state with a population of 83 million, was fully aware of the situation.
Some villagers, meanwhile, believe their plight was caused by a dam built near the village.
“The crippling spread like an epidemic after the Hardia Dam was constructed four years back near the village,” said Gauri Devi, an elderly woman.
Indu Shekhar Singh, chief of Bihar state’s pollution control board, said the dam may have blocked the underground water flow to the village, although the local soil could also be to blame.
“The Kachhariadih issue is being reviewed and a possible solution is being worked out,” Singh said.
The only water in the village comes from a hand-operated pump. There was a well elsewhere, but it has dried up.
The district administration has suggested bringing in a tank of pure water or installing water filters for each affected family.
Nothing, though, has changed in the village, where most earn paltry livings by farming and animal husbandry. But the disease seems to have also affected the animals, which have stunted growth.
Until the situation changes, the village also faces ostracism.
Neighboring villages have cut off links with Kachhariadih. Marriage, a must in the conservative community, is out of the question for young men and women.
“When she can’t even walk without support how will anyone marry her?” asked Paro Kumari, whose 18-year-old daughter manages her chores with the support of a bamboo stick.