April 05, 2011

Dhanga Baiga

In March 2010, I spent a week at the Jan Swasthya Sahyog, a health clinic in the village of Ganiyari, Chhattisgarh. My photographer buddy Tom was along too. We spent a fascinating few days watching the doctors at the clinic cope with the load of patients, speaking to some of the patients. It was an eye-opening time, one that, for various unfortunate reasons not entirely under my control, I have not written about enough.

JSS has an active outreach programme. What this means is that they train health workers in villages where there is little or no health care, and these people are able to cope with simple issues. Once a week, a JSS team runs outreach clinics. Residents of various nearby villages can come to these day-long clinics and meet JSS doctors about concerns the health workers cannot handle.

One outreach clinic runs every Tuesday, in a village called Bamhni that's about 60 km from Ganiyari. When Tom and I got there with the JSS team, several dozen people people from the area were waiting patiently to see Dr Yogesh Jain, the JSS doctor who had come that day.

Among them was Dhanga Baiga, a man whom it was sad and difficult to even look at. I'd have guessed he was 55, though it was hard to say for sure. He must have been close to 6 feet tall, and had legs and arms like proverbial sticks. He was suffering from TB, endemic in such corners of the country.

I remember Yogesh sitting in his room attending to a stream of patients, and then Dhanga walked in slowly, haltingly. I don't like being a voyeur with doctors and their patients. But I could not help looking in a few times as Yogesh and Dhanga sat there, for all the world like a father wasting away and his son trying to reassure him. It was in the soft, calm tone Yogesh used, in the resigned air Dhanga had, in the gentle hand I saw Yogesh put on Dhanga's knee.

Something in the quiet bond between these two men touched me somewhere deep.

A few minutes later, Dhanga walked unsteadily to a blue weighing machine. Even as he stepped onto it, I feared he would fall. But he didn't, and the machine duly recorded his weight: 28.9 kg.

Nearly my height, older than me, Dhanga Baiga weighed ten kg less than my ten year-old son. A JSS report from later in 2010 has Tom's picture of Dhanga weighing himself on its cover, with this comment inside: "Dhanga Baiga, 55 years old, suffering from tuberculosis and chronic hunger. Weighs 28 kilos. Body Mass Index 10.9, considered too low to be compatible with life."

Those last few words were prophetic. I was in Bamhni again on a Tuesday two weeks ago. Dhanga wasn't there, and I met Yogesh in the Ganiyari clinic that evening. "We just heard," he told me. "Dhanga died last night."


Tom has his account of this sad story, with some of his pictures from our week there (including the one from the weighing machine) on his blog here: The Sad Story of Dhanga Baiga.


Suresh said...

Thanks for this story, Dilip. That tells us how far we have to go. If there's anything that can be done to support the work of the JSS, please let me know.

Saby said...

@ Suresh,
Nicely put. We really have far to go to make sure that basic dignity of human life is restored.

@ Dilip,
Great work on the story. I guess readers would like more of your insights on incidents like this. For ex, how come people can't avail food for survival.? Corrupt PDS.?. Geographical isolation in terms of civic amenities.?.. or the tribal culture that is still in the hunter-gatherer subsistence mode.?.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thanks Suresh. I'll write you email separately when I get a moment.

Tom Pietrasik said...

A good blog post Dilip - important that Dhanga's tragic death is being heard about by others. Hard to believe that his BMI was only 10.9! The WHO say 18.5-25 is normal and describe anything below 16 as severe thinness.

Saby, the PDS is certainly not properly implemented and suffers from administrators who are not accountable to those they are meant to serve. I recently saw food that was meant for hungry people syphoned off and sold on the open market in Gaya District, U.P. But worst of all, the PDS monthly allotment of food to which families are entitled is not actually sufficient to meet their calorific needs as it never lasts more than two weeks.

Saby said...

@ Tom,

Thanks for sharing your observations.
I guess it goes without saying that corruption in PDS is a symptom of a deeper malaise.
The Justice system in my nation is a joke especially the judicial component of law enforcement. People just don't have any fear of the legal punishment because they know, that the courts are never going to deliver verdicts on time and later those could be negotiated too.
And that I believe provides an extra incentive, along with an already fragile ethical fabric, to aid and abett corruption.
Kudos to JSS for helping make life a bit easier at the bottom of the pyramid.