India is famous the world over for its snake charmers and myths around snakes. While the common man of today’s India is peeved with this comparison, nothing much has changed in the last century in the snakebite scenario despite the fact that there was a ground-breaking invention of Anti Snake Venom to cure venomous snakebites as early as the 19th Century. However, this drug started being used globally after a much-refined version of the antivenom was manufactured in the early 50s.
Out of the 300+ snakes found in India, about 15 species can be categorized as medically significant snakes (whose bite can prove fatal). India clocks the highest number of death by snakebites in the world.
The impact of the problem is more evident and severe in the rural parts of India where religious beliefs coupled with dogmas and dependence on faith healing is tremendous. As if this problem was not enough to deal with, local medical infrastructure across the rural and semi urban belt is broken.
Despite the fact that more than 50,000 individuals die each year from snakebites, there is little much that is being done to upgrade the health care budget in India. Allocation of funds to build medical infrastructure is the need of the hour.
Snakebite Healing and Education Society (SHE) was founded in 2014 with the aim to collaborate with grass root level workers across India to dispel myths and create awareness about the snakebite issue. The focus is on how not to get bitten by a venomous snake in the first place. We believe prevention is better than cure!
As we downed the curtains on 2016, SHE collaborated with Sanctuary Asia’s field coordinator, Goverdhan Meena in Ranthambore, Rajasthan to create awareness in the region.
Snakebite Temple in Sawai Madhopur
Rajasthan is a state of traditions, rituals and beliefs especially regarding treatment of snakebites. The faith healers in this state are local temple priests, fakirs and village quacks. Each year hundreds of deaths due to snakebite go unreported in this state. A snakebite death is looked upon as one’s destiny and people carry on with their lives after mourning the dead. No one tries to reason how they can prevent such incidents by implementing simple precautions like using a torch, looking where they are placing their feet or hands, storing of food grains away from where they sleep, not stocking piles of dried wood etc inside their houses and a control on the rodent population which forms the prey base of the three most commonly found venomous snakes in the state.
Despite such a high number of deaths, the state government has not recognized this as a burning issue to be tackled on a war footing.
Sanctuary Asia has been working on the ground with the local communities through their Kids for Tigers programme. The Kids for Tigers campaign has been successful with the local villages situated on the fringes of the forest. These villages face many snakebite deaths every year. In fact, more people in these villages die of snakebites than tiger attacks. SHE has therefore collaborated with the local team to roll out the snakebite awareness program along with the Kids for Tigers initiative.
SHE conducted awareness programs in the local schools, a B.Ed. college, villages and the local cottage industry that promotes regional artisans.
This was the first step of a journey through a path less traveled. There is immense opportunity to work on the ground with the local people in dispelling dogmas. Team Sanctuary Asia and SHE intend to continue creating awareness in this beautiful country side in which the four most commonly found venomous snakes in India are distributed.
Written by Priyanka Kadam
Field Coordinator : Goverdhan Meena