Cancer ravages rural Punjab due to chemicals in pesticides; govt assistance fails to improve situation -Arjun Sharma
Sangrur (Punjab): It is difficult to imagine Jasmine Khan’s pain and agony at losing her 14-month-old son in 2016. Living in a two-room concrete house in a labyrinth of bylanes in Handiaya village of Barnala district in Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency, she wells up every time Bilal intrudes on her thoughts, no matter that it has been two years since he succumbed to blood cancer. She often tries to hide her tears, but her trembling voice gives her away and makes it clear that the family is far from recovering from this loss.
“He used to cry and get fever quite often; so we took him to a local doctor who referred us to a local hospital. There, after some tests, we were told that Bilal has cancer; we then went to Kolkata for his treatment, but doctors there told us to admit him at PGIMER in Chandigarh,” recalls Jasmine. She says the family managed to admit him somehow, despite their limited financial resources, but he died within a month.
Bilal’s is not an isolated case; Punjab’s Malwa region, of which Sangrur is a district, has hundreds fighting cancer. The disease has spread its tentacles predominantly in the Malwa region of Punjab reportedly due to consistent use of pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture; these toxic materials have got mixed with the region’s water table and use of that water for agricultural activities as well as drinking has spread the chemicals in residents’ bodies, causing severe ailments among many.
A study reiterates that cancer's unusually high incidence, especially in the cotton-growing districts of southwestern Punjab, has been linked to the use of pesticides by cotton farmers, among other factors. “The consequences people in Malwa region are facing ought to serve as a warning to the rest. Indiscriminate pesticide usage combined with an absence of regulations limiting its use could have far-reaching adverse effects. Measures should be taken to make villages pesticides-free. An awareness campaign is needed to educate farmers of the deleterious effects of excessive pesticide usage. Environment-saving organisations should formulate the most effective practice for use and application of pesticides,” it adds.
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