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"Nuclear poisoning" in Jharkhand village: Hair-raising account of evading responsibility for radiation pollution

Ankush Vengurlekar
By Our Representative
In a hair-raising account of nuclear poisoning, Ankush Vengurlekar, a freelance communications trainer to non-profits, on a 900-kilometre solo cycling expedition to the tribal regions of Jharkhand, finds what he calls "cancer of denial, apathy and evading responsibility of the radiation pollution" in the tribal village of Bango.
Visiting one house after another in the village in East Singhbhum district to see the evidence of radiation pollution on people’s lives, about which media has "grossly underreported", Vengurkelar says, he found himself "slowly sinking to see so many cases of physical deformities in such a small population of about 2,400 people, all in one village."
Sanjay Gope
In the first house, Vengurlekar met Sanjay Gope, who is 12, and developed "severe muscular dystrophy at the age of 4." The writer adds, "This condition meant that his movement was severely restrained and so was his speech."
Entering the house via a short doorway that forces one to bend, he says, he saw that sitting cross-legged on a charpai on the right was Sanjay, a smile beaming from his face.
“He has been like this for the past 8 years, restricted to this cot. One of us has to be here constantly, we cannot leave him by himself,” the boy's grandfather is quoted as saying. On trying to converse with Sanjay, all that the writer managed were "muffled sounds."
Parvati Gope
Then Vengurlekar met Parvati Gope in a muddy house situated nearby. This 17-year-old girl was "suffered from lumbar scoliosis, an S curve formation of her vertebral column", he says, adding, "Parvati’s photos have been widely used by the anti-radiation poisoning movement."
Her father, a little annoyed, tells Vengurlekar, “Everyone comes and shoots her pictures and videos, but no one ever does anything about her condition. She needs to be treated and we need money for medicines. I cannot afford her medicines forever.”
Rakesh Gope
Next was the house of Rakesh Gope, "a school-going 13-year-old boy suffering from muscular dystrophy. Says Vengurlekar, "Only, in this case, he is extremely active and walks, albeit with severely arched feet and soles that are arched upwards." Only, "he also cannot talk normally."
“How long can we provide for his medicine? We don’t even know how long he will live,” Vengurlekar quotes his father as saying.
Kartik Gope
Then, Vengurlekar met Kartik Gope, 3, in the next home. "This sweet child has been having seizures since birth and is developing muscular dystrophy too", says Vengurlekar, adding, "The mother and grandmother are quite hapless. The mother keeps dabbing her child’s face as I take pictures."
"Incidentally", says the writer, "All the families with these symptoms have visited just one particular clinic in Jadugoda, which is in the UCIL (Uranium Corporation of India Ltd) complex of Jadugoda town. Further tests are done mostly at the Chaibasa hospital, while those who can afford it, go to Jamshedpur."
Haradhan Gope
Then there was the house of Haradhan Gope, a boy whose face he had seen in an article in the Hindustan Times. "I had a brief conversation with Haradhan Gope, who was going to the farms to get his cattle back", says Vengurlekar, adding, while he had "begun to preempt the answer" to the reason for the condition of this and other children, few villagers "attributed it to radiation exposure", with most claiming it was their "ill fate."
Anamika Oraon
The last visit was to the house of Anamika Uraon in Dungridih village. A ‘girl with the scary face’, as she was called, Vengurlekar says, "The right side of Anamika’s face was like any other girl of her school-going age... However, the left side of her face had bulged into a cancerous outgrowth of cells and tissue."
"The flesh on this side was so enlarged and weighty that it was drooping down. I remember feeling stunned as I stood there, talking to this girl, for whom, it was inexplicable what was happening to her", Vengurlekar says.

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