Rajauli (Bihar), May 10: The sun is beating down hard amid the dusty hills but the six little devils cannot wait for the race to begin. Ears cocked for the final whistle, they fidget as they stand in line. And nervously, adjust their walking sticks.
The whistle goes. Six pairs of legs, grotesquely twisted out of shape, dig their sticks into the patch of green and hobble as fast as they can to the finish line.
All six are grinning: Some in shame, some in embarrassment, some with fear that they will collapse midway. Because they cannot run like other children their age — their limbs have been crippled beyond repair by fluoride poisoning.
In Kachariadih village, just four km from the administrative headquarters of Rajauli subdivisional town, the children need walking sticks and the young crutches. The overdose of fluoride in drinking water — about 8 mg per litre when the permissible limit is 1.5 — has maimed them for good.
“The curse in our village began after the construction of a dam in Hardia,” says 45-year-old Rajvanshi as he lies on his khatiya, counting the days to death and release. “Even five years ago, there was no such disease in our village.”
Twenty-five-year-old Parvati Rajlakshmi agrees. Bent double and in pain, eyes fixed on the ground, she says: “I came here three years ago from a neighbouring village but after giving birth to three children, I suffered excruciating pain in the waist and my physical features got monstrously transformed.”
Her children, two of who hover around her, also limp. Not a single member of the nearly 100 families in this village dominated by the Rajvanshis — who are Dalits — is unaffected.
According to Nawada district magistrate, Vijaylakshmi, over 300 villagers suffer from various degrees of fluoride poisoning. “We offered them alternative habitation but they are unwilling to move,” he says.
Neither the state nor the Central government seems to bother very much apart from commissioning projects. Doctors involved with a project sanctioned by the Central Groundwater Board and the Unicef say the disease is irreversible.
Sanjay Paswan, MP from the area, says: “I had visited the village two years ago since it comes under my constituency along with doctors. The doctors said there was no cure for the disease. The Central government offered a project to purify water which was only preventive.”
Local MLA Rajaram Paswan says he is waiting for the government to sanction a Rs 62-lakh project but is at a loss why the relief cannot be doled out through local health centres. There is one in the village but no doctor is ever seen manning it.
The villagers, most of them farmers who have been reduced to begging, are planning to move court. Two Samata Party MLAs, including Udaynarayan Chowdhary, have drawn the attention of the National Human Rights Commission to the “sub-human condition of the people in the village”.
“We will take the issue to court if nothing is done for the people,” Chowdhary, who has visited the village, said.