Sip of death: A Kol tribe toddler and her great-grandmother dead; several villagers suffer diarrhoea due to polluted water in Mirzapur, UP

A two-year-old girl and her great-grandmother died following severe diarrhoea in Dadra village of Mirzapur. At least 11 more villagers were hospitalised, and three remain critical. The Jal Nigam has collected the 'contaminated' water samples for testing. Villagers claim they have been forced to drink polluted water for decades.

Brijendra Dubey
| Updated: June 25th, 2021

Dadra (Mirzapur), Uttar Pradesh

Two-year-old Aasma asking for water is the last coherent sentence that Shivani Devi remembers her toddler daughter spoke before succumbing to severe vomiting and diarrhoea on June 22 night. 

“Paani aur dana to roz hi khati thi, lekin us din achanak uske paet me dard hua, boli ki Mummy, paani pilao (She used to eat well and drank the regular water but that day she complained of a pain in the abdomen and asked me to get her water), the 20-year-old mother, dazed by her daughter’s sudden death, told Gaon Connection with an expressionless face. 

Paani is what seems to have killed the toddler as both villagers and the district administration blame contaminated water of the hand pump for her death.

Shivani Devi, the 20-year-old who lost her daughter to contaminated water.

Also Read: ‘It is poison, not water, that comes out of the handpumps’

Aasma, belonging to the Kol tribe, is not the only one who has died of diarrhoea in Dadra village of Rajgarh block in the Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh. Her 70-year-old great grandmother, Bhagesara Devi, too died under similar circumstances on June 23. 

Meanwhile, Aasma’s 28-year-old father, Ajay Kumar, who was hospitalised, has just been brought back from the Barrister Yusuf Emam Divisional Hospital in Mirzapur. But, now Shivani Devi has been hospitalised at the community health centre due to severe diarrhoea symptoms. Both Ajay and Shivani are daily wage labourers.  

In the past one week, Dadra village, about 330 kilometres from state capital Lucknow, has witnessed more than a dozen cases of severe diarrhoea and vomiting. Villagers allege this is due to the polluted groundwater that pumps out of the hand pumps and is the only source of drinking water for the villagers. 

Water is what seems to have killed the toddler as both villagers and the district administration blame contaminated water of the hand pump for her death.

The district administration isn’t unaware of the plight of residents of Dadra. “We have received the information that groups of people are falling sick in Dadra village. We sent a team of health workers to inspect the cause of infection and it was found that a lavatory situated close to a hand pump is possibly polluting the water supply,” said PD Gupta, Mirzapur’s chief medical officer (CMO).

Meanwhile, water samples for testing have been collected from the village; bleaching powder has been sprayed and chlorine tablets distributed. However, there is no arrangement for an alternate source of safe drinking water for the villagers. 

Also Read: Mystery of the poisoned waters: 2/3rd arsenic, fluoride-hit habitations safe now — despite budgets unspent

‘Treatment denied’ alleges the mother 

Dadra, which is situated on a hilly terrain, has a population of almost 150 people, including several Kol tribe families, and is equipped with a borewell and three hand pumps to meet its daily water needs. Kol adivasi community is categorised as a Scheduled Caste in Uttar Pradesh.

Villagers claim that the handpumps spew out polluted water and villagers keep falling sick. This time two residents — two-year-old Aasma and 70-year-old Bhagesara Devi — died and the village’s plight came to light. 

Shivani Devi, Aasma’s mother, told Gaon Connection how despite the toddler’s ill health, she was refused admission at the community health centre. “When she complained of a stomach ache [on June 22], we took her to the hospital at around ten in the night. The doctor there told us that it wouldn’t be possible to admit her so late in the night. While bringing her back home, she died on the way,” Shivani Devi told Gaon Connection on June 24. She has a five-month-old baby girl too and is at present admitted in the hospital for diarrhoea-like symptoms.

However, the incharge of the community health centre in Rajgarh has denied the allegations of the child not being admitted. “They never brought the child here for admission. The child died while they were on the way to our CHC,” DK Singh told Gaon Connection. 

Also Read: Leaking roofs, missing doors, weeds everywhere and few staff: Rural health centres in shambles

Reddish water from handpumps

When Gaon Connection visited Dadra on June 24, it found that the water flowing out of the handpumps was reddish in colour with an oil-like fluid floating on the surface. In the past one week, about 20 villagers have experienced diarrhoea-like symptoms and 11 of them have been hospitalised or undergone treatment, informed the residents. 

Ram Kumar Singh, an Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam official who visited the village to collect the water sample from the handpump yesterday, on June 24, told Gaon Connection that the water in Dadra was not fit for drinking. “The water here is too dirty with a reddish tinge. We will get the sample tested and get to know about the specific impurities in the water,” he said.

Also, Arun Prabhakar, the junior engineer (JE) of the Jal Nigam office in the Marihan tehsil of Mirzapur told Gaon Connection that the pollution of water increases in the rainy season in the hilly terrain. 

“In the rocky terrain of hilly areas, the surface water is not able to get naturally filtered as in the case of the plains. It is a contributing factor to the incidence of dirty water in the handpumps in the Dadra village,” Prabhakar told Gaon Connection.

Also Read: Sonbhadra: The darker aspect of the golden glow

Meanwhile, CMO PD Gupta informed that the villagers have been instructed “to follow preventive measures. Bleaching powder has been sprayed and chlorine tablets have been distributed amongst the population.” 

Villagers suffering for years

Residents of Dadra told Gaon Connection that this isn’t the first time they had encountered dirty water from the handpumps.

“The water is reddish in colour and sometimes small worms can also be found floating on the water collected from the handpump. This problem is more common in summers and is at its worst in the rainy season,”30-year-old Rajesh Kumar, a relative of the toddler who died, told Gaon Connection.

Chhuara Devi complained about the lack of testing of the dirty water that the villagers are forced to drink.

Rajesh’s neighbour, Chhuara Devi, who didn’t know her age, seconded him. “The water is so dirty here that it’s maddening. No testing of our water has ever been done and we have been drinking the contaminated water for years,” she complained to Gaon Connection.

Another resident of Dadra, Mangla Prasad claimed that there had been no testing of the water samples for at least 25 years. “I am 25-year-old, I have never seen or heard about water being tested in our village,” he said.

Mangla Prasad stated that he hasn’t ever seen the water being tested in his village.

Large-scale groundwater pollution in Uttar Pradesh

The problem of contaminated water is not limited to Dadra village alone. Last week, on June 19, Gaon Connection reported about the poor groundwater quality in Uttar Pradesh and how villagers in several districts were being forced to leave their ancestral households and migrate to other areas in search of potable water. 

The state level groundwater quality data collated by Gaon Connection showed that of the total 75 districts in Uttar Pradesh, 63 districts have fluoride above the permissible limit and 25 districts are affected by high arsenic. 

Written and edited by Pratyaksh Srivastava.

Read this report in Hindi