Cancer binds Malda villagers in death grip

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MALDA: Bidi binds villagers of Malda's Uttar Dariyapur together and so does cancer.

Tucked away in a corner of Naoda Jadupur gram panchayat, about 20km south of Malda, nearly every household in the village has a tryst with the fatal disease. In the last one year, more than 100 people succumbed to cancer and around 100 more are counting their days.

Cancer has in fact become a household name in this hamlet and has spread its tentacles to different areas like Mahajan Tola, Sardar Tola, Momin Para and Madrasa Para.

Maiju Sk, 46, and Jamshed Ali, 48, of Mahajan Tola; Tahiruddin Ali, 50, and his brother Afraul Sk, 43, of Momin Para and Falni Biwi, 46, of Sardar Tola are only a handful of names on the victims' list. Only last week, Ajiul Rahman, 50, and Abdul Ajij, 47, of Jiyarat Tola died of cancer.

Surprisingly, its lung cancer that most villagers have fallen prey to it. If Sadiqul Islam's lung cancer can be attributed to his smoking habit, for Jasmine Biwi the case is different. She, like the hundreds of women in the village, used to bind beedi.

"First, I got coughs but did not bother for long. Two years back, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis," said Jasmine. But with constant exposure to tobacco during work, her condition worsened. Six months back she was detected with lung cancer.

With most of the villagers being engaged in either bidi binding or working as a daily wage earner, those battling the disease are finding it difficult to make both ends meet.

Rabbul Sk of Mahjan Tola is suffering from throat cancer. He has eight children of which two are working in other states as labourers. "But we can hardly afford such an expensive treatment. We took him to Kolkata once. Now the homeopath in the village is our only hope," said Rabbul's wife Momina Biwi.

Sixty-five-year-old Abdul Khaleque was, however, lucky. His sons, working as migrant labourers, managed to pool in money to treat him of lung cancer. He underwent nine chemotherapy and eight radiation sessions.

"The villagers can hardly afford the expensive treatment. They hence resort to homeopath or soothsayers," said Rickety Khaleque, a villager.

Gram panchayet pradhan of Jadupur, Asaur Rahman, conceded that hundreds of people in Dariyapur were suffering from cancer. "We have informed this to the district health department and the district magistrate. But we received no help so far," Asaur said.

The chief medical officer of health (CMOH) Dr Bidhan Mishra was well aware of the alarming incident. He attributed the large number of cancer cases to tobacco and arsenic poisoning. "We are going to organize camps in these areas soon," said Mishra. "The District Health Action Plan is being prepared according to which four cancer screening centres will be set up in Malda's Bamangola, Gazole, Chanchal and Kaliachak," he said.