Ill children still subjected to branding in Kutch

Ahmedabad: The inhuman and painful practise of branding children, when they fall sick, is still rampant in some pockets of Gujarat due to lack of awareness against its ill effects coupled with the common belief that it heals diseases.

This strange practise is widespread in Vagad region of Kutch district and some remote parts of Rajkot district.

Children, mostly in the age group of 0-15, are still branded more than once for different ailments, using hot iron rods, heated nails, wires or incense sticks, as the administration failed to take any steps to control it.

"Just a few days back, I had received a case of five year old girl who was branded with hot iron rod 15 times on her abdomen as she was suffering from fever. She was brought at the last stage of her life and it took five days of intensive care to cure her," said Dr Rajesh Jeswani.

Jeswani has been fighting this cruel practise prevalent in backward Koli and Bharwad and even the Muslim community in around 100 villages of Rapar and Bhachau taluka of Vagad, for the last 18 years.

"This inhumane and cruel medieval custom is prevalent in this region for ages where a child is subjected to painful form of branding. The child is already suffering from ailments and on top of that, it is subjected to branding more than once, which results in not only additional pain but permanent psychological and physical scars on the young mind," Jeswani said.

His Masoom Children Hospital in Gandhidham town of the district receives 5-6 such cases every month. Other doctors practising in the town also receive such patients. So the number of cases are very high.

To which, Kutch District Collector M Thennarasan said, "I am not aware of any such practise. But since it has been brought to notice, we will check and take necessary action."

"Vagad region is very remote in Kutch with mainly poor population living in that area. Due to illiteracy, poverty, lack of awareness and inadequate medical facility, villagers prefer to go to such witch doctors who instead of doing good to children inflict harm on them," he said. .

Malaria, tuberculosis and water and air born diseases are rampant round the year in the Vagad region. Unfortunately, different body parts are branded for different diseases by these witch doctors. For pneumonia its the chest, in malaria and jaundice they brand the abdomen, in meningitis or brain or head related ailments branding on forehead is common, he said.

"I have found that the newborn babies are taken to such witch doctors to brand them on the nape of neck with a belief that if this is done than they wont fall sick. It is like vaccination for them," the doctor says.

The medieval custom it seems has its roots in the treatment of domestic animals like cows and buffaloes, which are cured of their septic boils or wounds by wielding of red hot iron rod.

But gradually, the practice also started among human beings and especially children. It attained a kind of religious sanctity among the illiterate village folks mainly from the backward community.

"The practice was rampant in many pockets of Gujarat in the earlier 19th century but it was eradicated in most parts as awareness in modern medical science grew. However, it refuses to die down in this Vagad region," Jeswani said.

"The saddest part is that the state administration has not taken any step to create awareness and upgrade health facilities in Vagad over the past many years. No efforts have been made to eradicate this inhuman practice when we have almost wiped out polio from the country," he said.

"To eradicate it, I have travelled villages, contacted sarpanchs, political leaders, social head of villages to educate them about consequences of this practice. But still it continues," he lamented.

Apart from Kutch, two cases of branding were reported in Rajkot district in last two years–one of a seven year old boy from Morbi and another of a girl from Chotila.

State Health Minister Jaynarayan Vyas said these are age old methods which are traditionally practiced in villages and they are not recognised by us.

"Health ministry has got nothing to do with such tradition. This branding does not come under even naturopathy or ayurveda and has no basis," he said.