This is the story of Kaluram’s family which lost 3 generations of women to snakebite.
Kaluram is a 23 year old farmer with a small tract of land and three buffaloes. He stays on his farm which is about 1.5 kms away from Village Khawa in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. He grows wheat, gram and vegetables for his family’s consumption. Kaluram is married with two young children below the age of five years.
The first death by snakebite in his family happened in 2001. Those days Kaluram’s family stayed in another house built out of brick and mortar. The small dwelling of two rooms was surrounded by fields where the family grew crops. Kaluram was 8 years old when his mother Prembai was bitten by a venomous snake. It was the month of May. Kaluram’s sister asked her mother for some onions along with the food. As the mother reached out to the onion bunch hanging in the corner, a cobra resting behind the bunch bit her finger. A tight tourniquet was tied to Prembai’s hand and she was made to walk to the village which was about 1.5 kms from their house. She was then put on a tractor and taken to the local Balaji (Hanuman) temple. Prembai died on the way to the temple. She was 35 years old and survived by three daughters and a son (Kaluram).
Myth: The family believes that if she had reached the temple on time she would have survived the venomous bite.
A few years after Prembai’s death, Kaluram’s 6 year old sister, Manchaiti, was bitten around 3 a.m. on an October night when she was asleep. There were no visible bite marks on Manchaiti’s body. Initially she was fine. She got restless only after about 2.5hours of the bite and started experiencing respiratory distress. Her mouth was frothing as she thrashed around. The family again started for the Balaji temple to cure her. Manchaiti however died on the way around 7 a.m.
Myth : The family believes that Manchaiti died as she was brought outside the house. The villagers believe that venom potency gets higher when one crosses the threshold of the main door.
In August 2012, Kanidevi, Kaluram’s 65 year old grandmother was bitten when the family was busy in the fields. Kanidevi was last seen alive at 4 p.m. As she was resting indoors and the family members were toiling in the fields, no one heard or saw anything. Around 8 p.m. when one of the family members went to serve her dinner they saw her lying lifeless. Kanidevi had a dark bite mark on the side of her torso and dried saliva around her mouth. Her face was bluish. She was taken to the village priest who declared her dead.
India is steeped in myths and dogmas around snakes and snakebites. The majority of the population believe in myths in some form of the other. Religion and faith healing form a major part of the snakebite treatment in India. Rajasthan has many temples that cater to snakebite cases. India has more than 300 species of snakes out of which only 4 species of venomous snakes are commonly found across the mainland. Since most bites are from non-venomous species, the victims survive and the faith in religious practices deepens.
In the above story, the prognosis by the village elders after 3 deaths due to snakebites in a span of eleven years, was that the house was cursed by an evil spirit. Kaluram abandoned their home and built another dwelling about a kilometer away. This house has the same backdrop as his previous house. The structure is surrounded by fields, buffaloes tethered very close to the house (as the family is based in Ranthambhore which is tiger country), dried wood and stacks of cow dung cakes (used as fuel for cooking), unplastered walls with wedges and holes between bricks that can host small creatures and snakes. The whole scenario is basically a haven for rodents and snakes.
Snakebite Healing & Education Society gathered Kaluram’s family and a few others working in the fields nearby and gave them information on how one can live with snakes without getting bitten. They were taught how simple basic changes could remove the food and shelter that rodents and snakes thrive upon.
Our Mantra : Keep the faith but rush to the hospital in a venomous snakebite scenario.
All three deaths in the above true story are unrecorded deaths as the victims were not taken to the hospital nor the incident reported to the local Police station.
Written by Priyanka Kadam
Field Co-ordinator: Goverdhan Meena, Sanctuary Asia.