TEN DAYS ago, Chaturi Sahni lost his son, Prince (7), to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). Within 24 hours, his other son, Chhotu (2), died too.
In the last fortnight, Harvanshpur village in Vaishali district, about 40 km from Muzaffarpur, has reported seven AES deaths. Two other children are undergoing treatment at Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur. Since then, over a dozen families have left the village with their children. Others have sent their children to live with their relatives elsewhere.
All the six families who lost their children are daily wagers — they get employment for just 10-12 days in a month. None of them have got the ex-gratia compensation of Rs 4 lakh that the government announced earlier, although the block development officer, Aroma Modi, visited the village.
Sahni, who has a small tea-shop and also works as a cook during the wedding season, is now doing the rounds of SKMCH, to get the death certificates of his sons. He says that if he gets the compensation, he will be able to provide for his surviving two sons and two daughters at least.
Like the rest of the villagers, he has no cultivable land, and lives in a thatched house. With a monthly income of about Rs 7,000, he is still better off than the others who make barely Rs 2,500.
The village has about 2,000 families, mostly extremely backward classes and Scheduled Castes. With no agricultural land, they all depend on the 15-odd land-owning Bhumihar families for seasonal employment. About a quarter of the village’s youths work in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Mumbai.
Rajesh Sahni lost his daughter, Rupa (7), to AES on June 9. “After the death of my child at SKMCH, I had to wait and fight for a government ambulance for three hours. The father in me died a thousand deaths that day, seeing the callousness of our system… My daughter was good in studies. I had just got her a tutor. She had neat handwriting. It seems like the light of my life has gone,” he says.
Protesting against the government’s inaction, the villagers blocked traffic. But the police lodged a case against 19 villagers, including a paralysed man, he says. When he finds work, Rajesh Sahni, who makes thatched houses for a living, earns about Rs 500 per day.
Ramdev Sahni, a daily wager, says he first took his daughter, Simran (7), to a private doctor in neighbouring Lalganj. She was referred to SKMCH but died on the way to the hospital. Now, he is not sure if he will get the government compensation, as she did not die in a government hospital.
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Ramdev’s house is now a health camp. The district administration has assigned two doctors and an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) from the primary health centre in Bhagwanpur. They work in two shifts, trying to spread awareness while handing out ORS (oral rehydration solution) packets, paracetamol, deworming drugs and zinc supplements.
But many of the villagers have already taken their children elsewhere. Among them is Rajesh Manjhi, whose daughter, Sanya (8), was among the victims. “Rajesh and my daughter used to stay at my house, but they have left the village with their two daughters because of the panic,” says his mother-in-law, Munakiya Devi.
Manjhi is a daily wager, earning about Rs 200-350 per day, depending on how far he goes from the village in search of work. “Since seven children have died from this village, we have been asked to take precautionary measures. We will stay here till the AES cases subside, and we will cover each household,” says one of the doctors.