August 20, 2010

The Story of Jethuram - Death by a Rabid Dog

As told by his widow, Sham Bai, in her own words.

Locale: A remote forest village of the Baiga tribe in Central Chhattisgarh accessible only by deeply rutted dirt roads that are impassible at times during the monsoon season.

Sham Bai
Our cows and oxen had gotten trapped in Khuriya, a neighboring village. Jethuram went to get the animals. On the way back, a dog bit him on the lower thigh of the left leg, just above the knee, and the dog ran away. Then, others with him sent him quickly to the village to get treated, and they followed later with the animals. The dog was not known to them. We collected herbs and roots from the jungle. He ate those and the pain lasted for about a week.

For three months, he had no problem. Then he started to have trouble again. Pain returned again to the thigh where he was bitten, climbed up his leg to his stomach and then to his head. He would walk around the house breaking things, like the water pots, and he would also try to hit me.

When he began to behave very badly, one fellow, Lakhiram, told us that if he was brought to Ganiyari, his life could be saved. Someone called Bamhni [1] and they sent a Marshal [2] to the village. They kept him all day and all night in Ganiyari. Even in Ganiyari, he would walk around his room and break things. We asked the doctor what to do and the doctor said he would not survive. So we asked and got permission to take him home.

When he came home, he caused a lot of trouble. We were afraid he would bite us. He would shout and scream like a dog and come after us like a dog. That night we cooked food for the evening meal. He ate it all, but he drank very little water. He wouldn’t sleep. When morning came, and we left the house to work, he locked himself up in the room. While we worked, he prepared tea for us all and served it on our return. But I wouldn’t drink it because I was afraid I’d fall sick as he had been bitten by a dog.

I told him “You are going to die because you have this disease.” He replied that my daughters will marry and go to other homes. “You will find another husband. My son will be an orphan. So I am going to kill you.” He attempted to kill me. When he wasn’t able to kill me, he said that when I go to work near the dam or in other people’s fields, I should make sure that the children get fed. He told our elder daughter that “You must go with your mother when she goes to the forest to collect mahua [3] and when she does other forest work.” He said: “I have five children. [4] How can you take care of so many? Get the land, that I have captured, plowed by someone else so you’ll have crops to live off of.”  He was throwing up while talking to us. As he stepped out of the house, he fell down next to the door. He fell backwards into the house. He vomited like a dog, lots of foamy vomit and then he died.”

On a daily basis, I think that if my husband were here, how much better I could manage. My heart is pained at the thought of his death. I didn’t have the courage to enter my home for three months after he died. I got scared whenever I thought of him. The children also were scared so we took down the house and got a small room. That is where we are staying now, close by.

When he died, I had to borrow 4,000 rupees to pay for the funeral. There is no one in the village to help us plow our fields, so our land is lying without use. He didn’t have any brothers living. They all had died of fever so I had no one to ask for help. I have brothers who live in Boiraha and asked them to help, to plow and sow the fields, but they didn’t agree to help me. Since there is no one else to help me, I am the only bread-earner in the house and I work as a laborer in other peoples’ fields. With the 40 rupees I earn most days, and the grains I am able to buy from the Society store [5], we have to get by. There is no one in the village to bring us rice, so my daughter and I go to Patpara to get rice. We each carry half of the 35 kilogram load. It’s a seven or eight kilometer walk each way.

Anything else?
Mola koi Posaiya Nikko. There is no one to take care of me. These are the exact words. I went to my panchayat [6] and this is what I said. I told the panchayat to get me some help because I have no help. I even had to submit my Parichaya Patra (ID card) and other papers. They checked if I had registered his death at the police station in Lormi [7]. I got the necessary documents from the block headquarters and submitted them at the Khuriya Forest Range office. The officer in charge of my village told me that he would send these documents to the next higher office in Bilaspur and would let me know when a check arrived in my name. After that, this office never contacted me again.

I returned to my panchayat. The sarpanch [8] told me my village was no longer under his jurisdiction. He sent me to another panchayat at Danghaniya. The new sarpanch noted my name among those who needed a nirashrit pension [9] but this too proved empty. I haven’t gotten anything from anywhere. It’s been over a year now.

We eat about 1.5 kgs. of rice in our home daily. When the rice I buy from the Society is used up, I have to buy khanda (broken rice) from the market.  And when I can’t afford even that, I borrow rice from other people’s homes. I am in constant trouble but I still work hard and I still feed my children.


Postscript: Sham Bai’s husband is dead. One could say that poverty killed him. People bit by rabid dogs no longer die in the Western world. More people die of dog bites in India than in any nation on earth – at least 30,000 a year. The number is doubtlessly under-reported. Sham Bai meanwhile lives on, but stoically and painfully. She has four little children to feed and bring up – all alone. Her patience and her courage are remarkable. If you might like to help her, let me know.

Sham Bai with Manakram, 2, the youngest of her four children
Once the monsoon rains abate sufficiently and the roads permit a home visit, there will be a note added to this account.

[1] Bamhni is the remote forest village where JSS maintains a sub-center. It has a permanent staff of two senior health workers and support personnel. Physicians from Ganiyari, the village location of the JSS hospital and administrative headquarters, hold weekly clinics and monthly training sessions for over 100 village health workers and midwives at Bamhni.
[2] A four-wheel-drive vehicle maintained by JSS for ambulance and patient transport over the rough terrain of the forest region.
[3] An edible flower
[4] The elder daughter has since married, leaving four dependent children at home with Sham Bai.
[5] A reference to one of thousands of local government food stores that dispense grain at subsidized prices to families certified to be “below the poverty line”. Many poor do not qualify for this grain, usually rice or wheat. Moreover, I have yet to meet a family that hadn’t run out of the government-supplied grain by the middle of the month.
[6] The village council
[7] The block headquarters.  The block is an administrative unit of local government with 100 or more villages.
[8] The sarpanch is the elected head of the panchayat or village council.
[9] Literally nirashirt means “without help” –  hence, a pension for a destitute person.

1 comment:

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