AES: Bihar Police lodges complaint against villagers protesting child deaths

Complaint has allegedly been lodged against 20 people from the worst affected Harivanshpur village 

By Banjot Kaur
Last Updated: Saturday 22 June 2019
Villagers taking water from government-sponsored water tankers. Photo: DTE
Villagers taking water from government-sponsored water tankers. Photo: DTE Villagers taking water from government-sponsored water tankers. Photo: DTE

Bihar Police has allegedly lodged complaint against 20 people from Harivanshpur village of Vaishali district, on account of protesting against the callousness of state government in dealing with acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) that has killed more than 120 in state till date.  

The village has been the worst-affected from AES as 10 children have died here — the highest in any village. 

However, according to the villagers, they were unaware that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was visiting Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur on June 18, 2019. Moreover, they were demonstrating in their village, not even on the main roads or highway, they rued.

“We had no inkling to that. Had we known this and the fact that we would face this after having lost so many children, we might not have done this,” the villagers told Down To Earth (DTE), on condition of anonimity.

Moreover, “we demonstrated in our village which is more than 5 kilometres away from the main Muzafapurr-Patna highway which the CM took to travel. None of us went on main road as we really did not know?”, they said.  

“While we protested seeing our children dying almost daily and were helpless, we were responded with complaints against us.”

Several villagers termed this as a vindictive move against them by the state. 

DTE reached the village early morning on June 22. One villager informed that 20 people have been asked by ‘daroga’ to reach his office immediately.  The villagers are so scared now that they do not want to talk anything on the record.

The village is also suffering from shortage of clean drinking water.

“Not a single chapakal (handpump) in the village is providing water. We are running helter-skelter for it. When neither our Block Development Officer nor the mukhiya (village head) was ready to listen to us, we decided to protest,” one villager told DTE.

Hahakaar macha hua hai is gaon mien paani ke chalte. Doctor bollte hai bachcho ko khub aur saaf pani pilyei taki bachche na mare. Par koi suddhi lene wala nahi. (There is absolute chaos as water supply is concerned. Doctors, time and again advise us to regularly give our children clean drinking water. There is no one who to listens our plea),” lamented another villager.

The villagers also moaned that no peripheral healthcare worker visited their village before the onset of AES.

Under the Standard Operating Procedure, prepared by Bihar government to tackle AES in 2016 and revised in 2019, healthcare workers must go door-to-door and educate people about providing children with adequate food to prevent hypoglycaemia — a low blood sugar condition — as well as other precautionary measures.

"The ASHAs and ANMs are also visiting us now. What will we make of these measures when my three-year-old has already died," said a wailing mother.

Meanwhile, the government is sending water tankers to the affected villages. However, the villagers said they don't have large water tanks for storage

“Whatever few containers we have, we have stored in them but how much can we store. We are barely able to manage drinking water in our family,” said a mother.

As DTE was talking to the villagers, two lady doctors came to the village with some supply of paracetamol tablets and ORS packets.

They claimed that the Block Medical Officer has been sending them in teams to tackle the emergency situations.

However, the villagers retorted saying: “A lot of damage has already been done and they have come quite late. Why could not they come earlier…”

Most of the children who died in Harivanshpur village belong to the backward communities of Mallah and Musharis tola. The village hit headlines after a villager Ganesh lost two sons — 7-year old and 2-year-old — within a span of 24 hours.

There were about 100 children in the village. While many people have left their homes due to fear of the disease, some families have also shifted their children to other villages after the outbreak of the disease.

Of the children left in the village, most looked malnourished or severely malnourished. Malnourishment has widely been pegged as the causal factor for AES.

DTE found that most children were not registered in the village aganwadi.  It was because the aganwadi already had children that more than one centre could afford.

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