Mohammad Imran / DNA
Ishfaq-ul-Hassan Sunday, March 26, 2006 00:02 IST
TUMULHAAL: Tumulhaal’s idyllic calm paints a picture that would make the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department proud. But the people of Pulwama district call Tumulhaal the “village of idiots.”
It acquired the tag due to the disproportionately large number of people who have, as the locals put it, the “deaf and dumb” disease.
With an angelic smile, five-year-old Simran can pass off as a kid straight out a glucose biscuit commercial. But she can’t even jot down words on a notebook. “Every time I tried to send her to school, other students sneered at her because she is deaf and dumb. It is a curse for us,” says Philori, Simran’s mother.
Simran is not the only such child here. In this village of 300 odd families, more than 130 people are suffering from the “deaf and dumb” disease.
Health experts are divided over the reasons for this. Most point out iodine deficiency as the reason, but are unable to explain why people in other villages of the district are not sufferers.
The villagers blame the “polluted” water they drink from the streams. “We have not had water supply in decades. In 1982, pipes were laid, but there is no water. We are forced to drink the water from local streams,” says Ghulam Mohammad Dhangru, the village head.
But health officials, point out to the several cases of goitre and mental retardation — proof of iodine deficiency. “There has been no new case in the last three years as we have convinced people to take iodized salt,” says Mohammad Maqbool, district health officer.
But Ali Mohammad Shah, 56, is not convinced. His 22-year-old daughter Muneera can neither speak nor hear. “She was born with a minor deformity. As she grew older she lost her senses.” says Shah.
Farooq Ahmad, 20, too suffers from the same disease. “He has become more violent with the passage of time,” says Ali Mohammed Malik, his father. "He hurls stones at passers by. He cannot speak or hear properly.”
Pulwama Deputy Commissioner Lateef-uz-Zaman Deva counts malnutrition as one of the reasons for the disease. “It has been compounded by other problems like iodine deficiency,” he says. The disease has led to social problems. “We face problems in matchmaking,” says Bashir Ahmad Mir, a villager. Bashir Ahmad Dabla, dean, faculty of social sciences, University of Kashmir, says every society converts a medical handicap into a social taboo. “Our society still believes in these notions. And that is why this village is facing an identity crisis.”
Despite the enormity of the problem, no scientific study has been conducted to unearth the real cause for the disorder. “I will take up this issue in the Assembly,” promises Syed Bashir Ahmad, the local legislator.
But all that Philori wants is Simran to go to school. “I wish nobody would tease my daughter,” she says as Simran smiles innocently.