November 15, 2017
In rural West Bengal, dead bodies are often carried wrapped in a blanket or a plastic sheet and put on a flat platform behind the driver’s seat of a van rickshaw.
So, when on the road from Deganga to Kolkata, a van rickshaw passed by with a body wrapped in a mustard coloured shawl, one almost did the automatic ‘pronam’ – touch the fingers to the forehead and heart – said a small prayer and moved on.
But what was different about this van rickshaw, that passed by about 50 kms from Kolkata, was seated an exhausted looking woman who must have been beautiful at one time. The wife. And then there was a little boy, may be just four years old. A grandson.
The man driving the motorised van rickshaw was a strapping youth of about 35.
Meet the Mondol family of Malancha Kanimari, Police Station Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas, 100 kms from Kolkata.Nitai Mondal, 65 or so, is a fisherman who has tuberculosis of the lung and multiple other ailments and has not been able to work for years.
His wife, Gita, 56, is in despair. They had taken him to a premier government-run Kolkata hospital, RG Kar, back in August. His malady was diagnosed, he was given medicine and asked to come back a month later for a check up.
Nitai Mondal did not have the wherewithal to do that; nor his four sons and two daughters. But the family could not just sit back and watch him die. So, when friends told him to take Nitai babu to a goonin, or witch doctor, seen as a local healer, at Deganga thakurbari, he jumped to the idea.
Or rather cycled to it. Nitai’s 35-year-old son Dilip is a van-rickshaw driver. On Tuesday morning at 4 am, he put his father on the back of his motor-driven cycle can along with his mother and young son and headed to their destination, a 50-km ride that he accomplished in a record six hours.
The audience with the goonin was brief. Nitai was given jol-tel (water and oil) and an amulet to help him recover. And then the family set off back home. 6 hours, 50 kilometres, with a catheter bag hanging out of Nitai’s private parts.
“We don’t have anymore money to go to Calcutta for treatment,” said Gita. “We are already about Rs1 lakh in debt from friends and family. To go to RG Kar Hospital in Kolkata, we will have to hire a taxi, which is impossible. Going in a bus with my husband in his condition is impossible.”
“We want my father to live but there is just so much we can do. Only the goonin can help us now,” said Dilip, the son, resignation in his voice. His son sat listening and staring at his father.
The situation couldn’t be allowed. So the NDTV team called the police, went to the Deganga police station, organised an ambulance with police help to drop the family to Malancha.
Dilip refused to go. He did not want to leave his van rickshaw – his only source of an uncertain income – behind. So Nitai, Gita and the little boy got on the ambulance and left with two civic volunteers that the police were kind enough to send along to ensure they reached safely.
Dana Majhi’s wife was dead when he carried her body on his back from a hospital in Odisha towards to his home to perform the last rites last year.
Besides abject poverty, he is completely removed from all government programs on containing tuberculosis, an issue that the Centre has promised to focus on as well as increase spending, resources and manpower.
The state government is a party to the TB eradication programs. There should be a district TB officer to contact Nitai Mondal and ensure his recovery. But that has clearly not happened.