With more and more children of tribals falling victim to local healing practices such as branding, the administration in India’s poorest district has launched an awareness campaign to educate traditional healers about harmful healing techniques.
The 45-day campaign, called Jyoti, was launched on Sunday with an aim to train 4,400 traditional healers in Odisha’s Nabarangpur district.
“This is not a fight between modern medicine and traditional healing. Disharis and Jaanis are a respected part of tribal society, and our aim is not to challenge them. They need to be reoriented and convinced to shun harmful practices like branding. Our aim is to bring them into the mainstream,” said Rashmita Panda, the district collector, while launching the campaign at Kendriya Vidyalaya Nabarangpur here.
The launch was attended by over 250 ASHA and anganwadi workers, who will train the traditional healers, called Disharis and Jaanis in Desia (local dialect). Child development project officers, who will be the master trainers for the four-hour module, were trained on Saturday. By April end, over 4,200 ASHA and anganwadi workers are expected to have trained the traditional healers.
Officials said that during distribution of old age pension every month, songs warning about the harmful effects of branding will be played at all 10 block offices.
Former child development project officer and designer of the training module, Manorama Majhi, said that in the tribal-dominated society of Nabarangpur, it is difficult to remove traditional healers from the system. “They can be the best messengers if we co-opt them into our campaign. The healers have been with the tribals for decades and they never charge money,” said Majhi.
Nivedita Mohanty, vice-president of Nabarangpur Zilla Parishad, said the awareness drive should have been launched years ago.
Dabugam MLA Bhujabal Majhi said the administration should give the traditional healers certificates and outline their responsibilities. “There have been several cases when modern medicine has failed, but traditional healers have cured. Some healers might have got drunk and harmed the babies. Branding is not as bad as is being portrayed. I was branded in childhood,” he said.