The Santhal Aadivasis of the Jadugoda region are dying a slow death from Uranium radiation, but all Government Agencies reject this reality
Translation of Uranium ke vikiran se jadugoda elake ke santhal aadivasi dheemi maut mar rahe hain, lekin sabhi sarkari tantra is sachchai se mukarate hain
By Dayamani Barla
(Translation by Vidya Jonnalagadda)
The soil of Jadugoda in the Jharkhand region has provided uranium to run the Atomic Energy program in the country and develop Nuclear capabilities, but the Santhal aadivasis of this region are dying a slow death by uranium radiation. It is a living death that compels people to suffer till their last breath. It is a death the reality of which is being denied by all Government agencies. In the region of the uranium mines, in villages such as Chatikocha, Dumardeeh, Telaitaand, Echada, Bhatin, and Lipighututu, 45 of every hundred women are suffering from spontaneous abortions. The children are dying. Most of the children are becoming physically and mentally handicapped. People are not living beyond 65 years of age. No one wants to marry the girls from this area. The girls who did get married are being abandoned for their inability to bear children. Under the influence of radioactivity, physical malformations, cancer and pulmonary diseases are assuming demonic dimensions.
For the first time, a team from National Commission for Women visited Telaitaand on July eight to see and hear for themselves the misery of the women affected by uranium radiation. The ailing from the affected villages of Chatikocha, Maatigoda, and Tireel related their woes to the members of the Commission for two and a half hours. Ghanshyam Biruli told the Commission members that the simple folk of the village are not even aware of the fact that radiation emanates from the Tailing Pond. He added that most of the babies born are deformed. People from other villages do not want to marry the girls from the affected villages. Those who were married but did not beget children have been abandoned. These women do not want to marry again for the fear that the next husband too might dump them if they cannot have children.
60 year-old Mado Manzi told, “30 years ago, there were no such diseases here”. Of Mado’s five children, three have died. Marang Bhai of Tilaitaand was married 10 years ago. Marang Bhai told that she had conceived once, but the fetus aborted at five months. After that, she has never conceived. Her husband left her as she did not have a child. She has returned to her parents’ home. Three children of Sumitra Soren have died: one within 24 hours of birth, the other two immediately after birth. The fourth child was born ill. The entire skull of the baby is soft and it has other health problems.
Basanti Soren told that she was first married to a person in Karamgutu. Her husband left her since she did not produce a child. To get on with her life, she married again, but the tragedy was that she could not conceive through the second husband either. Basanti is worried that her second husband too might abandon her because of her childlessness.
There was a long line of women wanting to share their pain with the team from the National Commission for Women. Both members of the Commission listened intently to the anguish of the women. Mrs. Saaro had completed 20 years of marriage to Mangal Maanzi but did not have children. Since Saaro did not bear children, Mangal married again, this time to Dumani. But his luck did not change. He did not beget a child from his second wife either. Mangal Maanzi is employed in the UCIL (Uranium Council of India Ltd.) mines. Budhani Bera of Dumurdeeh had an abortion in the ninth month of her first pregnancy. Her second pregnancy ended with an abortion in the eighth month of pregnancy. She has a child of four years, who is always unwell. Simotee Maandi was married in Beerigoda. She told that her first child was stillborn. After that she has not conceived. Mrs. Dhanumati has two children. She told that both the children and she herself are perpetually unwell. Mrs. Taramani told that UCIL had annexed six acres of their land and they had not received any compensation to date.
All the officials of UCIL, including the Director General of UCIL, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rahul Kumar, and Dr. Khan, refuted the claims that there was any kind of adverse health effect on the people due to radiation from uranium. They dismissed the notion that there is any connection between health and radiation.
Pulling a curtain over concerns for the safety of workers employed in the mines the officials of UCIL said, “Safety measures are followed one hundred percent of the time”. Indicating the Tailing Pond under construction in Telaitaand, Ghanshyam Biruli asked the officials, “Is this region safe?” In response the officials quipped, “There is no relationship between this (health problems) and that (the Pond)”.
Member of the Commission, Dr. Sayeeda Shaidan Hamid asked the officials, “What is your policy regarding the abortions, child deaths and malformations? ” The officials replied, “We will visit the villages and assess the health of the inhabitants” . Highlighting their paperwork, the officials announced, “We have visited villages and collected blood samples from around three thousand people. The reports for these not yet completed”. Boiling with anger at this, 33-year old Dumaka Murmoo demanded, “When did the Health Officials come to the villages to survey the health of the residents, when did they gather material for the survey? Not a single person for the villages knows about this!” Ms. Vaasavi asked the officials, “Was there a lady doctor in the health examination team, since women are the most affected?” Steering clear of the matter, the officials answered in monosyllabic “Yes, No”.
The questioning by the Commission members and the afflicted intensified, and the officials kept giving evasive “Yes, No” responses. To bolster the officials’ story, a senior official was summoned.
Upon his arrival, the Official began giving his explanation in English. Intervening, Dr. Hamid said, “Please speak in Hindi, we don’t understand English”. He (then) first started narrating the history of UCIL. Interrupting again, Dr. Hamid said, “Please don’t give us a historical account, just tell us about the problems prevailing here”. Continuing his response, he (the official) said, “We have given compensation for the land, we have given them jobs”, etc. Taking over the reins of discussion again, the member of the Commission asked, “Please talk about the condition of the women and children”. The officials do not have any space for justice and humanitarian concern in their files to be able to answer these questions.
It has been clearly stated in the report of the Environment Committee that the displaced populace should be rehabilitated at a distance of (at least) five kilometers from the affected area. Disputing this, the officials declared, “There is no such reference made in the Report”. At this, the team members queried, “According to you, what are the guidelines for the distance from the Tailing Pond at which the displaced can be resettled?” In response, they said, “One and a half kilometers”, whereas in reality, displaced families are living in homes constructed just below the Tailing Pond. In addition, despite opposition from the people, another Tailing Pond is under construction right adjacent to the village in Telaitaand. Sister Anna and Ajita were also a part of the Commission team. The team had reached Jadugoda under the leadership of reporter (Ms.) Vaasavi.
About Dayamani Barla
Dayamani Barla’s is an inspiring story of a tribal woman who decided to stand up and campaign for issues that continue to erase, erode and impoverish tribal societies in Jharkhand in the name of development.
Dayamani, educated at the Ranchi University, has been writing articles in Hindi in regular newspapers and magazines like Prabhat Khabhar for the last ten years. Her writings powerfully articulate the exploitation faced by tribal communities, especially women. She strongly believes that by taking the voices of the tribal communities to the common public on issues of tribal women’s empowerment, health, local self-governance and on Government’s Tribal policies, common people can be made aware of the real situations on the ground and thus participate and influence development policies in the right direction.
She has been a powerful campaigner working shoulder-to- shoulder with the community on different issues ranging from eviction of tribals due to the Koel Karo Project, hazards of Uranium mining to forced prostitution of tribal women.
A recipient of the Counter Media Award for better rural journalism(2000) and the National Foundation for India Fellowship (2004), Dayamani runs a local tea-shop for a regular living which she claims is also one of the best places to listen to the ‘voices of the people’!