This was my first visit to Chukru, a small village in the Palamu district. Although I had heard quite a bit about the village, it did not prepare me for what I saw and heard. Here is an account of my experience of my field visit, a very familiar but tragic tale.
Chukru is notoriously well known as the village, with record number of people affected with Skeletal Fluorosis, a condition caused by extensive exposure to Fluorine content in the water. A limited exposure would lead to the dental condition, Fluorosis but a chronic exposure could scar you for life. But Chukru is not only famous for this issue but also the extensive amount of work done on paper and feeble attempts in reality both by government and non- government agencies.
It is said that almost every NGO who initiated work in the Palamu district (one of the most backward districts in the state) had visited the village, made promises only to never come back. The people of the village, frustrated have lost hope and are afraid to trust any more.
I had visited the village because our staff shared that they were finding it difficult to reach out to people (we work with people with disabilities and their rights) as they didn’t want to even access their rights which were available.
Here are lives of two families I met, which is a representation of almost every family in the village.
Upendar is 9 years old, a happy go lucky kid just catching few minutes of play before school started. As I stopped to chat with him, I found that both he and his brother Ajay have been victims to this dreadful condition. Although other discussions held in the village showed that most people who were affected, manifested symptoms only after their twenties.
As we talked, his mother walked in nonchalantly (not a usual sight in the village, especially when there are strangers in your house). She didn’t seem expectant at all, giving me the feeling that she was used to people interviewing their family. Still determined, I sat to talk to her as well. She shared of her three children, both the boys were the ones affected.
The family had also spent a lot of money in treatment and finally gave up as they did not get any medical help.I told her that I had met her son and that he was a bright kid. She beamed as she proudly declared that she was determined to give both her sons good education, as it was the only source of hope.
The other family I met were a couple both very old and had lived with this condition for almost 30 years. In addition to this, they also do not have any children and are dependent on each other. Both of them shared they had adjusted to this life and have no expectations of any change.
A crowd had gathered around us and people were enquiring was this the meeting that was supposed to happen. I was surprised as we did not plan any meeting, when we found out that another “NGO” had come to hold a meeting to discuss the issue. People shared that this was a non-stop happening as the village has been a constant attraction. They asked me what would I do, I didn’t have an answer.
We explained that we are not here to solve their water crisis rather to work with people who are already affected. We enquired if the people had taken any steps, they shared that they had protests, marches but each time same promises were made to shut them up. I have no clue what we will be able to do in this village as everyday people are still drinking the same infected water and just waiting for the worst to happen, a destiny they feel that cannot be changed.
We, in the project don’t want to be just another NGO with promises, the magnitude of the problem scares me but am reassured by this very familiar verse “My Grace is sufficient for you, My strength is made perfect in your weakness”. I am not sure of the way forward but one thing I know is that for any sustainable change to happen, it is absolutely necessary for people to be part of that process. I believe that there is light at the end of this tunnel in Chukru; it’s just a matter of time till we reach there.
If you are reading this, I would appreciate any thoughts, feedbacks and experiences you might have on similar issues.