Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh: In Vadi village, nearly 400 km from Bhopal, 60-year-old Sakriya Mandloi performs a ritual to ward off evil spirits. He believes they are responsible for the low weight of Sambhu and his brother Shiv.
Two-year-old Sambhu weighs 8.5 kg and 7-month-old Shiv weighs 4 kg. Both are malnourished, but instead of taking them to an anganwadi or a hospital, their family takes them to this occultist or tantrik, who charges a bottle of liquor and fruits.
The tantrik says, “The tantrik ritual cannot be learnt in school and colleges. I have learnt it from my father and God. I treat malnourished kids and they mostly recover. If their condition worsens, they are taken to a doctor. I treat two-three children daily and have been doing it for the last 35 years.”
Sambhu’s grandfather Shiv Nan Singh Kirade says, “My grandchildren were not properly treated in the government hospital, so I called this tantrik. Their condition has slightly improved now. The anganwadi worker has not informed me about the nutrition rehabilitation centre or has given any food packets to my grandchildren.”
From the home where Kirade family lives, barely 200 m away is an anganwadi centre.
The anganwad worker Gyarsi Rathod admits to neglecting the children as their family pointed out.
On asking about her negligence, she says, “I had gone for an immunization drive last week. The children’s family could have come here then and taken the food packet. I agree I could have delivered it at their home. I will do it from now onwards.”
The locals claim that it’s not just superstitions that draw tribals and other backward communities towards occultists, but the alleged discrimination at the anganwadi centres and the government hospitals.
Suresh Mandloi, Deputy Sarpanch, Vadi, says, “Villagers avoid going to anganwadi centres and hospitals as they face caste-based discrimination.”
The state Women and Child Development Department feels that occultists are a big challenge in the fight against malnutrition.
Vijay Solanki, Assistant Director, Women and Child Development Department, Alirajpur says, “Nearly 90 per cent of children here are taken to the occultists and that’s a big problem. We will now be talking to the occultists and convince them to refer malnourished children to the hospitals.”