13 May, 2021

Leech Fields

Social indices topper Kerala just can’t stop the baby deaths in its malnutrition-hit tribal Attapady belt

Sivaram V.
Leech Fields

Under the thick canopy of a peepal tree, beside the road that winds to Pallur Ooru in Attapady in the Western Ghats, is a small tribal burial ground. There are no tombstones to mark the graves and on closer look one sees tiny mounds where the mud has been disturbed. In a quiet corner, a man digs a grave with a pickaxe. It seems the tribal funeral ceremony has been given a miss. The silence that hovers over the ground is rhythmically broken by the harsh crunch of steel on the crusty earth. A small group of men wait patiently around the grave-digger, one of them cradles a bundle in his arms—a month-old dead infant. In a matter of minutes, the body is buried and the men leave in single file to go down to the river to cleanse themselves. Murugan, the baby’s father, trails behind. The infant had died of malnutrition leading to pneumonia.

Thirty-five children have died in the last six months in Attapady, a hilly tribal settlement in Kerala’s Palakkad dist­rict. This in a state which prides itself for having the lowest infant mortality rate (IMR) in the...

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