What Was Responsible For The Deaths Of 96 Children In Odisha?

Posted by Alokananda Bisoyi in Health & Life, Society
December 5, 2016

Many people in Malkangiri say the same thing- “This is just an excuse by the government. How can ‘Bana Chakunda’ seeds be the cause of death of our kids? Even we have eaten the raw seeds.” The interim report submitted by an ‘expert’ panel has turned the Japanese Encephalitis issue to a new, unexpected and unacceptable direction. According to the report, the consumption of  ‘Bana Chakunda’ (in Odia) seeds has caused the majority of deaths in the district. The mainstream media houses without even bothering to come to Malkangiri to find out the food patterns of the Adivasis, reported on the findings of the report.

Even the common public in Malkangiri have questioned the government in naming the committee ‘expert’. Out of atleast 96 people who have died, 32 were victims of Japanese Encephalitis. According to a PTI feed published in Business Standard, Jacob John, the head of the expert panel, said, “Anthraquinone is the suspected toxin found in a plant called ‘Bana Chakunda’ in Odia or Cassia Occidentalis. We found toxin from the urine sample of a few tested children, which indicates that the children ate seeds of the plant.” The toxin was found in the urine sample of five tested children according to the report. But a question arises here. How can an ‘expert’ committee hold Chakunda seeds responsible for deaths of hundreds of children by finding a toxin in only five samples!

Children in western Uttar pradesh have died earlier due to the same ‘Bana Chakunda’ seeds in 2007. The committee after a rigorous study of three years had found that the ‘Bana Chakunda’ seeds were the reason behind the deaths. Jacob, who was also a member of the expert committee in UP said to the press that the kids who consumed a lot of these raw seeds in Uttar Pradesh for fun, as it tastes sweet and tender, died in a day or two. But, the irony is that consumption of the same seeds have been continuing since hundreds of years and hence, the kids in the district are not new to the tree. This fact pops up a question; Why have consumption of the seeds not caused a single death in all these years? The question remains unanswered.

The committee claims that the deaths not caused by Japanese Encephalitis could have been caused by a non-infectious bio-chemical disease known as encephalopathy, which is different from encephalitis. But strange is the statement of the health secretary of the state who in her reply to a journalist’s question said that she was not sure whether five kids from whom the urine samples were taken were cases affected by encephalitis or encephalopathy. More strange is when the secretary said, “I am not sure whether the kids (whose samples had the toxin) are dead or alive.” And, the entire state of Odisha is witnessing a hullabaloo that kids in Malkangiri are dying due to the consumption of ‘Bana Chakunda’ seeds.

In Malkangiri today, no one is ready to buy the arguments of the committee. The janta is divided into two sections. Whereas one section accuses the alarming rate of malnutrition to be the cause of the death, another section believes that since the Panchayat elections are to take place in February, 2017, the ruling party is not highlighting the issue as it is supposed to do, due to the fear of losing in many belts.

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Image Source: Scott Olson/ Getty Images

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