In 2004, the villagers of Chauhatta in Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur district started complaining of body pain. Unable to identify the cause for many months, one of the villagers decided to visit Mumbai to see a ‘big’ doctor.
The doctor diagnosed that the water that he drank was the real culprit and had huge amounts of fluoride in it. He was advised to stop drinking this contaminated water as soon as he could, because if he didn’t, it could lead to a disabling disease called Fluorosis.
Shocked and worried, he came back to the village and broke the news to other villagers.
The villagers also learnt that Fluorosis is of two kinds. In Dental Fluorosis, the effect of fluoride can be seen on the teeth’s enamel and in Skeletal Fluorosis, the bones are affected the most.
The villagers decided to meet up with the district authorities to let them know the gravity of the situation, but their plea fell on deaf ears and they were sent back with painkillers and an assurance that they would be fine again.
With no relief in sight, they kept knocking at the doors of the authorities for four years but no one listened. By this time, disability started setting in, first in the children then in the adults.
At present, there are approximately 70 children and 90 adults who are affected by Dental and Skeletal Fluorosis in Chauhatta village, which has a population of over 600 people.
With twisted legs and deformed hands, children shockingly go about their daily lives as if nothing has happened! Dental Fluorosis is visible in almost all the children in the village.
With intensity beyond their ages, the children talk of the angst, the pain and how ignored they have felt as no one listened to them or bothered about them.
Satya Priya Gautam, a young boy, who has been affected by Skeletal Fluorosis told me that although a water tank was built in the village five years after the villagers complained, it was too little and too late.
“What meaning did it hold for the people who had already been disabled?,” he asked
While health check-ups have been done after the first case was reported, they’ve mostly been for namesake and largely in-conclusive, he said.
Fluorosis in other states
In India, more than one lakh villages and over 10 million people stand to face disability due to high fluoride content in water. The places worst-affected by this disease are Agra and Sonbhadra in Uttar Pradesh, Jhabua, Chhindwara and Dhar in Madhya Pradesh, Nagaur in Rajasthan, Nauapada in Odisha, Nalgonda in Telangana, Munger in Bihar, Nagaon and Karbianglong in Assam, Palamau in Jharkhand.
What’s inevitable and frightening is that groundwater tables are depleting fast in the country and many other places are adding to this list.
As someone who has been working on disability issues since ten years, both in India and in Africa, I’ve been surprised to see how little we are doing to prevent disabilities of different kinds in our country.
The people affected by Fluorosis beg to be heard, but the widespread apathy alienates them further. The stigma attached with Fluorosis is immense. The fear of being ridiculed because of this deformity plays on their mind and takes away their self esteem bit by bit.
The more misery I keep seeing across the country because of this disease, the more I feel that we need to somehow find it within ourselves to take up their fight and take it up real quick.
Come and join this fight with us at the Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network.
– Vikas Ratanjee works as a Policy Advocacy and Communications Lead with INREM Foundation. As part of his role at promoting the Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network, he has been instrumental in developing campaigns and local group formation in several states.
– Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.