A government doctor, who has delivered 3,000 babies in the tribal hamlet of Attappady working with the miserably poor people for 15 years, says that he has not encountered a single expecting mother consuming alcohol.
Countering politicians’ claim of alcoholic mothers causing infant deaths, Prabhu Das, former chief medical officer of the Kottathara Government Tribal Specialty Hospital and presently deputy district medical officer of Palakkad, insists that unemployment and poverty have led to the crisis. He is also the nodal officer to coordinate the implementation of health programmes among Scheduled Tribes in Palakkad.
Thirty-four infants from the tribal community at Attappady lost their lives in the last six months. While the people of the tribe grieved over the death of their young, the response from some State Cabinet Ministers, including the Minister for Scheduled Tribes, was to say that alcohol consumption among pregnant mothers was the cause for some of these deaths. The tribals, along with doctors and activists who have worked among the tribe for years, condemned the Ministers’ attempts to dismiss the issue of child deaths.
“No pregnant tribal woman who had consumed liquor was brought to the hospital in all the time I was there. I have delivered nearly 3,000 babies and there was not one case where the mother had been drinking,” said Dr. Prabhu Das, who has around 15 years of experience working in Attappady. Dr. Prabhu Das said that while some of the older women in the tribe may consume country liquor, younger women and pregnant mothers did not drink.
A former employee of the Attappady Hills Area Development Society who has worked closely with the local villagers said the Ministers’ statement was a cruel joke on the women who had been protesting against alcoholism in the tribe for several years. “Women are the victims of alcoholism in the tribe. They have been fighting to protect the tribe from liquor lords who exploit the vulnerable people of the tribe,” said the activist. Instead of blaming the people, the government should focus on enforcing the ban on brewing of country liquor, he said.
The central issue in Attappady, said Dr. Prabhu Das, is that the people could not find employment. “There are no initiatives to create jobs for the tribal people. They would only be happy to practice farming and produce their own food,” said Dr. Prabhu Das.