Hot iron branding in Paralakhemundi on Makar Sankranti

Bhubaneswar: Despite growing public outrage against hot iron branding in Odisha in the name of curing diseases, the age-old tradition goes unabated in some parts of the State. The cruel tradition reared its ugly head on Saturday when the residents of Subhas Nagar area in Paralakhemundi of Gajapati district were seen branding their children with hot iron nails.

The visual exclusively obtained by OTV showed a group of five to six people, mostly from the Telugu speaking community helping an elderly woman to forcibly brand children of various age groups on their tummies with iron nails. The woman paid no heed to the children shrieking in pain and kept branding them. Soon after the act, they smeared the affected areas of the children’s body with ash from burnt wooden logs presumably to provide relief from the pain.

When asked about this, a resident said, “We have been observing this for ages and we believe diseases like joint pain, back pain and body ache is cured after branding.“

“This is observed only during Makar Sankranti. On the third day of the festival, everybody comes in a queue to get his body branded with the iron nail,” he stated.

Activists and rationalists say only a massive awareness campaign by the government and other agencies can help eradicate this obnoxious practice, which is common in south Odisha.

In December last year, a similar incident was reported from Nabarangpur district when one Purusottam Ghasi, a local quack, branded a 28-day-old infant with hot iron nails. The witch doctor was later arrested and forwarded to court for his involvement in the incident.

In another case of inhuman torture based on superstition the same month, a pregnant woman of Chandaghati area under Khairput block in Malkangiri district was branded with hot iron when she felt pain in her abdomen. On the advice of neighbours, the husband of the woman took her to a local quack who branded her with an iron rod to cure her.

A female tribal quack, who had instigated a couple to inflict burn injuries on their six-month-old infant, was arrested in Nabarangpur district in May last year. A tribal couple from Papadahandi block had approached the quack for treatment of their child.