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Odisha: Superstitious Tribal Parents Of 12-Day-Infant Resort To Hot Iron Branding Despite Government Health Schemes

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Malkangiri: The neck-deep superstition of the tribal pockets of Odisha resurfaced with a 12-day-old infant branded with hot iron on his stomach for about 8-10 times in the tribal pocket of Malkangiri.

Bhanu Padal and her husband Madan of Andhari village under Khairput block were overjoyed with the birth of their son on February 28, but their joy was shortlived. The doctors at Mathili Community Health Centre informed that the anus of the newborn was closed.

They immediately referred the baby to the district headquarters hospital in Malkangiri town.

“The doctors observed the baby and told us to take the baby to Saheed Laxman Naik Medical College and Hospital (MCH) at Koraput. At the MCH, doctors told us that the baby has to be operated upon immediately and asked us to take him to Cuttack. But our finances were already drained. The authorities even offered us free transport to Cuttack, but we did not have money for other expenses, so we dropped the idea and returned to our village,” informed the father of the baby.

As the baby was unable to have milk or pass stool, his stomach had got swollen. The couple decided to go for the age-old traditional method of healing and the baby received the inhuman treatment of hot iron branding on his stomach at the hands of a local disari (traditional healer). The condition of the baby became critical after it.

“The doctors at Koraput said that the baby will die if not operated immediately, but we brought him back and after the hot iron branding, the baby is weak and not keeping well. But he is having his milk and passing a little bit of stool,” said Bhanu, the mother.

Seeing the condition of their baby, the couple decided to take him to Visakhapatnam and arranged funds from friends and relatives in the village.

When the health authorities of the area came to know about the whole incident, a health team was sent to assess the situation. But the couple had already left for Visakhapatnam for the treatment of the infant.

In spite of numerous awareness campaigns and extensive media coverage, this age-old practice of the tribals resurfaces every now and then, challenging the authorities and their efforts. It seems an uphill task, as the tribals resort to child branding as a first step to heal the baby out of exasperation.

They believe by branding the child the healer vanquishes the evils which may befall the child. Even if the branded child is unable to survive the burn infection, they take it as a will of God.

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Bhanu Padal, Child's Mother

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Madan Padal, Child's Father