Sundarbans (WB): To save themselves from grave health risks, conservative Vaishnavite families of Sundarbans are fighting religious restrictions which forced them to drink from contaminated pond water instead of hand pumps as it contain leather parts.
"The piston of a hand pump has parts made out of leather. You cannot expect a strict Vaishnav family like us to readily accept water from a tube well which has leather parts as we are prohibited by faith from consuming anything that comes in contact with animal remains," says housewife Parbati Das who lives in Durbachati gram panchayat.
Like many other Vaishnavite families in the remote islands of Sundarbans, she had been using water from her household pond for drinking, cooking and all other domestic purposes despite having access to a tube well.
Many of them have now started fighting against such religious restrictions after relentless campaigning by health workers.
"It is a tough task to convince conservative village members to change an old tradition which has been followed by for generations. Awareness of the dangers of sustained consumption of unsafe water from various sources are changing their thinking," says Chittapriyo Sadhu, project manager of Save the Children NGO.
Consumption of pond water, though religiously sanctioned, involves huge health risks with pesticide and fertiliser residuals and fecal contamination entering it from runoff water especially during monsoon.
Besides, according to health officials high level of monsoon turbidity also poses an issue that severely undermines the safety of family members in consuming this water for drinking and cooking purposes.
It is estimated that around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases annually and 1.5 million children are estimated to die of diarrhoea alone.
The Sundarbans Health Watch report by the Indian Institute
of Health Management Research (IIHMR), Jaipur, finds that contaminated drinking water is among the top health issues in the region.
"Enteric infection and diarrhoea is common here as people consume contaminated water in the Sundarbans. In most places, they don`t have access to safe drinking water," says Barun Kanjilal of IIHMR.
Strict vegetarian Vaishnavite families are now trying to understand the implications of using unsafe water and are gradually changing their traditional beliefs.
"Times have changed and so does it warrant us to change and adapt to the realigned requirements to live a healthy life, which is more important than strictly following the scriptures and falling sick," says Das who has now started using community tube well water.