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Sorrow Tale Of Jajjal: The Village Cursed By Cancer

By Umendra Dutt

14 March, 2007

It is going to be five years that Jajjal village earned fame in media and administration. In 2002 when for the first time a retired government teacher Jarnail Singh bring out the issue of abnormally high incidences of cancer deaths in Jajjal and some adjoining villages. Till then village has witnessed about 20 cancer deaths and several new cancer cases. This small village has 500 odd households with population of 3500. There is no respite for the Jajjal residents. During last five years several experts and study teams from across the country visited the village, the surveys was done and stories were appeared in news papers or aired in news channels. But the sufferer villagers got nothing. If ask villagers about what they got in last five years, you will get an answer with anguish – nothing, accept some visiting cards of media persons, government officials and doctors. We only become infamous for cancer, it is becoming all most a stigma for most of us, says a villager Jaswinder Singh.

It was unfortunate that the Jajjal village and villagers were at the brink of collapse as the high debts, unfit water, dwindling social structures, different types of cancer, male and female reproductive problems, neurological problems, huge expenditures on the treatments, deaths and suicides are all common things. One after the other deaths has wrecked the villagers. Majority of the people do not want to talk about the cancer. Even cancer patients do not talk about the disease but simply say that they went to the " Bikaner' which is self explanatory and every body knows the meaning. There is no governmental or other wise good cancer treatment facility in the area like one in Bikaner. People fear that the treatment cost shall be very high once the cancer is declared and they don't go for a cancer checkup, as they think that the family members shall become worried about the expanses.

Punjab government has made several declarations about cancer, but practically very little was done so far. Take the case of financial relief to the cancer patients. Despite all assurances and declarations only three families got financial relief of Rs 22,500 /- each. Where as village have at least 55 cancer deaths on record. The pathetic condition is so worst that in some families, cancer has ruined the entire family and money. Cancer has taken away our near and dear ones along with our money and savings we had done in decades. We had lost our relatives as well as our prosperity, says a young man. According to a snap survey by a team of Kheti Virasat Mission, 48 cancer cases were reported. 36 persons were died due to cancer where as 10 others are still battling for their life.

The cancer victims in Jajjal are facing multiple crises. Every cancer affected family owns debt of one to three lakh at least. But some are worst victims. Cancer does not make difference between rich and poor, land owner and land less laborer. The death is knocking the doors after door, ruining the families, social system and economy of the Jajjal.

The doom is very cruel as it is coming in many ways and is not sparing the elders or new born. Take the case of Kartar Kaur, this 90 plus years old mother lost her three sons one by one due to cancer in front of her eyes. The deadly cancer had snatched her son Choota Singh (45 years) in 2002, Balbir Singh (60 years) in 2003 and then Jalore Singh (45 years) in 2005. The family has taken debt of Rs Nine lakhs for treatment, and after losing three brothers, now family owns debt of Rs six lakhs. It is despite the fact that the family has sold its tractor and some other moveable things. Ironically till date this family got Rs 22,000 as aid and relief from the Government. Today Kartar Kaur is living with her grand sons and three widowed daughter in laws. This is the orphaned childhood due to the violence of environmental toxicity. Who is going to take responsibility for this?

The cruelty of cancer is really heart frightening. Now meet Manish an infant of only two years who is suffering from cancer by birth. His father Tarsem is a daily wager. The abnormally enlarged head of Manish is telling that, some thing is seriously wrong, the boy can not move on his own. His father has already taken loan of Rs 25,000. Tarsem and his wife both are laborers; they had to go for work in near by town of Rama Mandi. This dalit couple is spending hard earned money to save their only child. Manish is called to be future of his poor parents, at the age of two he does not know what has happened with him. He cannot even imagine what hardship his parents are facing. The poor child cannot move, not even toddle. He cannot play with toys. His father knows that Manish's life is limited he want to give his child more better treatment but he can't afford. Even he cannot borrow more because no body will give him loan beyond a limit, as he has no land to mortgage. After all money lender want to confirm that from where this labourer return the loan money. Manish cannot treat properly with this limitation. There are many more Tarsem and Manish in whole of Malwa.

Jagdev Singh age 14 was a healthy boy upto the age of 9, but gradually he become handicap and now he is on wheel chair, he can not speak nor does he do any thing on his own. His father Bholla Singh has done best of his efforts but Jagdev remain on wheel chair only. The cancer has snatched smile from the villagers. One daily wager whose 22 year old wife is suffering from cancer is not willing to tell her the truth, of fear that she might loose heart. If a family member suffers from the deadly dieses others tries to hide this heartless fact.

Cancer has ruined the prosperity of even those, who got their cancer cured with expensive treatment. Now 70 year old Mukhtiyar Singh, who got his cancer affected kidney operated, was forced to sell tractor and piece of land to meet expenditure of treatment. But he still owns debt of Rs two lakhs. Mukhtiyar Singh says we are just curtailing our needs, we cook vegetable once a day and take the meals thrice a day with that only. This is the condition of the so called state number one.

Cancer is only one aspect of Jajjal's eclipsed fate. Today Jajjal is also facing very severe problem of reproductive health. KVM volunteers also came across numerous incidents those are quite upsetting. Then you can find large number of youth having grey hairs. Joint pain and spinal problems are making youths of village older then their age. Skin disease is another blot. These environmental health problems have become so usual that now villagers had accepted it as their fate. However the politicians and bureaucrats do not pay the requisite attention to the problem. Though Punjab government had done a study by PGIMER but after nothing was happened. No high official ever visited since the report is out. No government effort is visible not even a simple early detection of cancer

and its documentation. Neither the Punjab Pollution Control Board after spending more then Rs 15 lakh takes any follows up step nor does the health department taken any initiative for remedial measures. Jajjal is still awaiting a full-fledged environmental epidemiological study and house to house surveillance to tackle the crisis. In this government apathy and darkness there is ray of light also Jarnail Singh is running a Vatavaran Chetna Kendra established by Kheti Virasat Mission in the village. He has also taken step to make Jajjal pesticide free as he has started pesticide free natural farming and he is also motivating other farmers to join this community initiative.

But on the other hand the Agriculture Department and Punjab Agriculture University does not show any kind of interest in village accepts promoting Bt. cotton. Both have regional centers at Bathinda only 32 Kilometers away. Irony is that officials of department and PAU are prescribing Bt cotton as a remedy to this environmental health crisis. More painful is that the politicians from both camps are also singing the same chorus. They should know that Bt cotton is here from last four years and still the children like Manish are taking birth.

Then another dark side is mounting debt and rising number of farmers' suicides. It is irony of Jajjal that it has also witnessed about 20 farmer's suicides in last ten years and there are several others who had moved out of agriculture after selling their land. Now they are land less labourer. Jajjal is in deed a village in acute crisis.

Jajjal needs a new start for life. Let us hope the new government in Punjab takes care of this and evolve a strategy and action plan for cancer free, toxicity free, debt free and suicide free Jajjal. That should be light of hope for thousand of other villages facing the same doom. So, that there should no more Manish and Kartar Kaurs not only in Jajjal but whole of Malwa region. But there is a question - Who has time for this?

(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot district based environmental NGO in Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail:

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