Water, despair and precious lives put on hold

A story of how people living in this non descript village in eastern UP in India were forgotten by everyone and were left to face serious and disabling fluorosis

In 2004, people in this tiny village of Chauhatta in Fatehpur started complaining of body pain.

Curious; one of them decided to go to Mumbai and get himself checked up. What he found was to shake him up completely. He was told by the doctor that there was fluoride in the water that he drank and if he didn’t stop, he could be deformed over a period of time.

He came back worried and shared with others what he had come to know. Upon discussing, the villagers decided to go and meet district authorities to let them know of the gravity of what they were faced with.

Filled in tractors with anxiety writ large on their faces they went to the District office; with hope that something would be done for them and that it would be done really quickly .

They were given pain killers instead and were told that they’d be alright soon. But nothing really happened.

Quite concerned,they went again, and again and again.

Shockingly; for 4 years, this is what kept happening, but no one listened, by which time disability started setting in, first in small children and then in everyone else.

There are approximately 70 children and 90 adults that are affected by fluorosis in a population of some 600 in Chauhata. You’ll find both Dental and skeletal fluorosis cases here. Dental fluorosis is visible in almost all of the children.

Today when you see Chauhata you realize the enormity of what has happened here, You enter the village and you cannot but miss seeing children with legs twisted and hands deformed standing in every corner of this small village.

It’s a mind numbing feeling that you get.

Young children who have lost their entire families to fluorosis, talk with an intensity beyond that of their young ages; They talk of the angst, the pain and the deprivation they’ve been caused because no one really listened and no one really bothered to care!

There have been health check ups done periodically, ever since the problem was first reported, but the problem with all of these has been that they’ve been too in-conclusive.

This, I’m afraid is just one among many villages that are spread over the landscape of our country in many states, which stare at a similar frightening fate.

You look around and you’ll find that fluorosis is almost everywhere now.

Places like Agra and Sonbhadra in Uttar Pradesh, Jhabua, Chindwara and Dhar in Madhya Pradesh, Nauapada in Orissa, Nalgonda in Telangana, Munger in Bihar, Nagaon and Karbianglong in Assam, Palamau in Jharkhand are increasingly bearing the brunt of the problem.

What’s even more frightening is that there are lot many other places that are joining in to this list as groundwater tables go down and take a massive dip around the country.

When I spoke with Satya Priya Gautam a seriously affected youth with skeletal fluorosis in Chauhata, he said that although a water tank did get built at the village five years after the people had complained, what meaning did it it have now for people who had already been disabled? He himself was one of the casualties of this delay.

In my early days as someone who has engaged on disability issues, both in India and in Africa, I’ve been surprised to see how very little we’re doing to prevent disabilities of different kinds from taking place, particularly those that are caused by pre-existing health conditions.

My association with the Fluoride issue for these past 4 years through the Fluoride Network has sadly reinforced for me what I’ve been seeing all along.

This endless struggle of people to get somebody to listen to is a familiar story one sees across India. It signifies a complete apathy to act by us when we need to do so the most.

It pushes us to ask ourselves: Do we really value human life as it is and all that it stands for? Do we really care enough?

If we did; we would never let things like this to happen and we wouldn’t be closing our eyes to people’s agony in this way.

The biggest problem with fluorosis is that once it strikes it just won’t let you feel human again, the social stigma around it is intense. You’re simply changed from what you were used to being before.

Suddenly; the fear of being ridiculed because of your deformiry takes you over completely. you suffer and your family suffers with you equally.

The more misery I keep seeing across the country through this disease, the more I feel that we need to somehow find it within ourselves to take up their fight and take it up real quick.

Come join this fight with us at the Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network