Crooked bones, twisted limbs and deformed bodies sat in the doorways, eyes vacant, staring into the horizon.
Movement for them is a curse, each day a torture, as they struggle to find answers to government apathy that has left them dwarfed and shrivelled, thanks to fluoride poisoning of ground water.
Most people living in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh have to survive on contaminated ground water, which is high on fluoride content. In fact, the amount of fluoride is as high as 10 parts per millilitre (ppm), as against a permissible limit of 0.5 to 1 ppm. Drinking this water gives rise to fluorosis, which in turn leads to crippled limbs, deformed teeth and stunted growth.
Ironically, the district is just 50-60 km away from Krishna river and clean drinking water. But the inhabitants can only watch helplessly as water from the river is carried in huge pipelines to Hyderabad.
“We need clean drinking water from river Krishna. We cannot stand this poison anymore,” read a board placed on an STD booth in Vattipalli village of Nalgonda district.
The STD booth belongs to 32-year-old Tirupatamma, who looks much older than her age. Her limbs are twisted. She cannot stand on her feet and is forced to crawl to move around the house. Her mother is dead and her father is bedridden with crippled legs.
“I used to eke out a living from the STD booth. But I had to close it down as these days there are hardly any customers with most of them carrying mobile phones,”Tirupatamma said.
She survives with a meagre amount of Rs.500 that her father gets as pension and 35 kg of rice provided by the state government.
Tirupatamma has now joined hands with the Fluorosis Vimukthi Porata Samithi (committee for eradication of fluorosis), an NGO working to provide safe drinking water to the affected villages.
“My life has no hope. All I can do is fight so that the next generation does not suffer from this dreaded disease,” Tirupatamma said.
There is an overhead tank a few yards away from her house that is supposed to supply river water to the village. But it remains dry most of the time and the villagers have no choice but to depend on underground water.
Like Vattipalli, there are 974 more villages which are affected by fluorosis. Many people have deserted these villages as they could not take the “poisonous” water anymore.
According to the 2001 census, there were nearly 75,000 people who were suffering from fluorosis and the number must have gone up by now.
Fluorosis Vimukthi Porata Samithi convener K. Subhash said the government has provided pipelines to 450 villages to supply water from Krishna river.
“But the water supply is grossly inadequate,” Subhash said. “Our first priority is to get safe water to all the 975 villages. The government should also fill up the dried-up tanks so that the level of ground water rises, which will automatically bring down the fluoride content,” he added.
Subhash is aware that this is easier said than done. Twentytwo-year-old fluoride victim Rajitha of Khuda Baksh Palle village summed up the agony and the apathy faced by the inhabitants of Nalgonda district.
“Some days ago the Speaker and some MLAs paid us a visit. But all they did was provide lip service. In the past, too, former chief ministers N. Chandrababu Naidu and Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy had come to see us, as if we are live exhibits,” Rajitha said.