They left home in search of work, came back with silicosis

Silicosis is a disease of the lungs. Every year, tribals from the hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh move to the neighbouring state of Gujarat in search of a livelihood. But they are returning with this disease

Pushpendra VaidyaPushpendra Vaidya   31 Oct 2019 7:06 AM GMT

They left home in search of work, came back with silicosis

Shaitan Mannu is so weak that one can count bones off his body. He is short of breath even when he sits awhile. The doctors have already refused him further treatment. Any breath could be his last. The entire family has already taken Shaitan to be a living dead member.

Many villages of Madhya Pradesh's Jhabua, Alipur and Dhar districts face a similar situation. Shaitan of Jhabua's Mandali village had, many years ago, left for Gujarat for work. Within a few months, the dust from the stone crushing had settled upon his lungs like cement. Several people from these villages have already died of silicosis while many more await death.

Silicosis is a disease of the lungs. Continuous exposure to dust, silica, cement and fine glass particles inhaled while working in places such as stone or cement mines results in their build-up in the lungs. The patient's physical stamina dwindles over a period of time; he gets progressively weaker and eventually succumbs to death.

Seven-year-old Ganga of Jhabua's Kaliya Viraan village now lives alone with her young siblings. Within five years, both her parents have expired due to silicosis. It is for the sake of these children that they had gone to work in a glass factory. After being afflicted with silicosis, both of them got wasted to death. Their kids are now orphans. There is no one to look after them. Left with a little land, these siblings are forced to work as labours in order to feed themselves.

The gravity of silicosis can be assessed from the fact that its patients have little hope of survival. They are left with no alternative other than to die a slow and painful death.

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50-year-old Rajmal of the same village is unable to either work as a labourer or tend to domestic chores. His lungs have given away due to massive fibrosis or hardening. With only the skeleton visible, his lungs have actually been totally scarred. Doctors have already dismissed his case as already lost to the death. For several days, Rajmal had remained admitted in a hospital in Dahod in Gujarat. Thereafter, he returned to his village where he has no work as a labourer. He has to go back to Dahod in order to find work. He has two little children and two bighas of land. Few people help sow it and whatever comes out of it, the entire family survives upon it.

Nothing except for the certificate of silicosis affliction could be received from the government. Bhangu's husband Bheelu Gajawa also passed away last year due to silicosis. Bhangu is also a silicosis patient and may not survive long. She runs from pillar to post with the certificates of her affliction and her husband's death but fails to secure any prompt offer of help. She gets a few pills from the local dispensary in the name of treatment and lives in the hope of survival.

Dinesh Raisingh Kumar who suffers from silicosis says, "Doctors say there is no cure for this disease but still, everyone continues to show to various private doctors, someone sells his land whereas some other his goats, few even had to sell their homes, many have perished leaving behind their orphaned children."

Seven-year-old Ganga of Jhabua's Kaliya Viraan village now lives alone with her young siblings.There is no one to look after them.

Kashaldara's Dinesh has been bedridden since last year. He had been to Godhara and Dahod of Gujarat in 2002-03 to work as a stone crusher. The powder prepared from crushing stones is used to produce glass. For a 20-kilo sack, he used to get Rs 50. Having no work opportunity back at home, he had to take up this work in Gujarat. It only took 2-3 months for his health to deteriorate. Although he returned to his village within a few months, he brought back a lifelong ailment with him. He experiences shortness of breath and incessant cough. He cannot even exert a little. At 35 years of age, death looms larger above Dinesh who has two little children to look after. Despite the impending death, Dinesh fights for the rights of other silicosis patients.

Every year tribals from the hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh like Dhar, Jhabua and Alirajpur move to the neighbouring state of Gujarat in search of a livelihood. A decade-and-a-half-ago, several villages had tribals thronging to the stone crushing mills where they breathed in the fine dust particles and their lungs got saturated with silica. They realized too late about the serious consequences of the disease when many of them had already been afflicted by it. Across 105 villages of the three districts, about 1,721 people have been afflicted with silicosis out of which 589 have succumbed while 1,132 are suffering.

At the same time, another silicosis patient, said: "Doctor has told 'live as far as you can, rest we can do little besides giving you medicines.' Now if we tell this at our homes, our little kids get worried and scared."

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