While Chandrkant Sompura of Ahmedabad and his sons are under the limelight as the architect of proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya, a number of their counterparts in Dhrangadhra town in Surendranagar district have developed deadly silicosis due to continuous exposure to silica dust while carving idols and temple parts and a few of them have already succumbed to the disease.
An ongoing survey by People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC) has found 70 people with silicosis in Surendranagar district. Out of these 70, as many as 22 are residents of Dhrangadhra. Of the 22, seven patients have Sompura as their surname, the survey by PTRC, the Vadodara-based NGO working for occupational health, has found.
All the 22 are male in the age group of 32 to 70 years and are in the occupation of stone carving. The Sompuras of Ahmedabad who are building the Ram Temple belong to Palitana in Bhavnagar.
“Not only that, five persons of Dhrangadhra died due to silicosis between 2016 and 2019. Of the five deaths, three were recorded in 2019 itself. All of the victims were in the occupation of stone-carving and two of them had Sompura as their surname,” Jagdish Patel, director of PTRC says.
Sompuras are believed to have learnt the art of building temples from Lord Vishwakarma, the divine architect and engineer in Hindu mythology. The community is spread in areas like Dhrangadhra, Ambaji etc where stone-carving is an industry.
Ghanshyam Sompura, president of Sompura Samaj, an organisation of Sompura community in Dhrangdhra, says that there are 125 Sompura families and around 1,200 members of the community in Dhrangadhra.
Majority of them are engaged in stone-carving, designing and doing contract-work of temple construction, he says.
“Recently, some health organisation had told me that a few members of our community are suffering from a peculiar disease but I am yet to go through details. However, it is true that average life expectancy in our community used to be around 40 years due to the nature of work. But thanks to automation, people are living much longer now,” said Ghanshyam.
However, those who have developed the disease and have come to know that it is incurable are shattered. “My only worry is our children. I want that my family’s legacy of being sculptors ends with me. I want my eight-year-old son to study and find some job in other sector,” says Kirshor Sompura, who, along with his elder brothers Nitin and Anand runs Vastushilp, a proprietorship firm which provides temple construction services, including idols.
While Anand was formally diagnosed with silicosis in October last year, 36-year-old Kirshor, the youngest among the three brothers, says he is suffering from the disease at least for eight year. He says that he knows Chandrakant Sompura.
Ashish Sompura (38) earns Rs 250 per day by working as casual sculptor. His elder brother Kalpesh died three years ago after suffering a heart attack. Neither brother could manage to find a bride and their mother is worried now that the family legacy would end with Ashish.
“Sculpting is no longer seen as preferable occupation by parents of girls of our community and those like me who are practising it are finding it difficult to find a bride. I don’t want to do this work now. But what other work is available here?” he asks, amid bouts of coughing.
Silicosis is caused by accumulation of silica dust in lungs. It is an incurable and fatal disease.
Meanwhile, PTRC has moved the National Human Rights Commission, seeking compensation for those who have succumbed to silicosis and rehabilitation of those who are still battling with the disease.
“The nature of employment in Dhrangadhra is both institutional and self-employment. But irrespective of that, kin of victims are eligible for compensation and those living with the disease are eligible for rehabilitation by the state government as per a 2009 interim order of the Supreme Court,” Patel said.
He added that a number of artisans from Odisha and Rajasthan are also working in Dhrangadhra.
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