A village of woes

Nestled in the lush green Bondaimunda hills, about 30 kms from the Dhenkanal district town in Orissa, Pabla village is set against an idyllic background.

Smithaa Patnaik

Nestled in the lush green Bondaimunda hills, about 30 kms from the Dhenkanal district town in Orissa, Pabla village is set against an idyllic background. The sleepy settlement sits amidst thick groves of palm trees and the beguiling surroundings masks the fact that this village has been struck by a strange killer disease which has claimed many able-bodied males down last few years. And death still stalks the survivors.

What bothers the people is the steady succession of death of males in this village which has earned the village the notorious name - ‘village of widows`. The facts speak for themselves. Of the present population of about 60 some twenty are widows and the oldest male in this village is 40. As one enters the village haunting eyes peer at you as the silent huts stand as a mute testimony to the bizarre tragedies.

Now the eyes there have stopped crying, as if deaths have numbed them. A 38-year-old youth Jagan narrates how the deaths have virtually decreased the male population of this
village of the Kandha tribes. The dreaded disease strikes only males. One death follows another, even not sparing youth below 18 at many occasions. The symptoms are always the same; it starts with a high fever, followed by dysentery, then boils develop all over the body, and finally, within hours, the victim dies.

No victim ever had inkling about the approaching demise. As one is all set to go to work, he feels ill and then the same sufferings and the deaths. Deaths have become a routine affair. Bewildered and sapped of all emotions the villagers invariably turn to the unknown. "Long time ago life was so smooth," recalls one old lady named Ketaki and adds, "Nobody knows what has gone wrong and we helplessly watch our boys passing one after the other.”

Some village women dub it as the wrath of God. Cut off from the civilization due to its inaccessible location, Pabla has been deprived of basic amenities like medical care and portable water. One has to trek about 10 to 15 kilometres to reach a dispensary at Purunagarh. On top of that poverty and illiteracy have compounded the already acute problems. Like many such villages in this district, Pabla`s near isolation has seen to it that superstition remains unchecked.

Betraying a degree of despondency a villager Jaga says, "It is all His will" and adds, "the village Goddess has to be pleased.” Hence, animal sacrifices are common and are resorted to whenever a villager is afflicted with the strange sickness. The killer disease has earned the village the stigma so much that people from other villages fear to marry off their daughters to the males of Pabla. Will all this lead to the death of every male at Pabla? The question echoes within the hill.

Teams have reportedly visited Pabla and taken the blood samples and read other symptoms but the outcome has always remained confined to the clinical regimes in the cities. However, the common reason ascribed to this unusual series of deaths is the villagers` unquenchable thirst for toddy - a drink brewed from the juice of the palm trees.

Some even say that some tribals, to make it more potent, add wild roots in it. But many women of this village also relish the drink. So, this naturally wrecks the theory that the brew is the reason for the deaths.

Some amount of literacy, awareness and medical aid and of course accessibility is all that Pabla is looking for. When will it receive succour?