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Chenchus in Nallamala under siege

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Crying for help: A Chenchu woman mourns the death of her baby in Chinna Arutla near Srisailam.
Crying for help: A Chenchu woman mourns the death of her baby in Chinna Arutla near Srisailam.

K. Venkateshwarlu

CHINNA ARUTLA: The fleet-footed Chenchus are known to escape from wild animals they often encounter in the thick Nallamala forests, but when it comes to diseases they succumb meekly, thanks to Government apathy.

Two deaths from suspected diarrhoea in a span of few hours on Monday night has sent shivers down the spines of the otherwise hardy Chenchus, the dwindling primitive tribal group, in this tiny hilltop gudem (Chenchu habitation) off the Srisailam-Dornala road.

When this correspondent visited the gudem on Tuesday it wore a desolate look. A mix of gloom and fear hung over it with the Chenchus’ wails piercing the silence of the woods.

They are scared because they would not know who among them would be the next victim. For whenever a disease strikes gudems, it always leaves a trail of death.

The deaths, that of a middle-aged woman, Pulicherla Pothamma, and a four-month-old baby again brought to the fore the perennial cycle of fatalities from diseases and poor access to healthcare, clean drinking water and transportation. “We could have saved her but it was around midnight and we did not have a bus to take her to hospital at Sunnipenta, 10 km away,” said her husband, Pulicherla Naganna. She had complained of stomach ache and loose motions since Sunday morning. A community health worker gave her some tablets on Monday but by night she was no more.

Much more pathetic was the plight of the baby boy, the first son of a newly-wed Chenchu couple, Kudumula Raju and Lingamma. When they rushed him to the Government hospital at Dornala, doctors told them that he had diarrhoea and he would be alright with medicines. By early Tuesday he died in the lap of his mother leaving her crying inconsolably.

Going by the insurance claims with Integrated Tribal Development Agency, Srisailam, there were 178 deaths during the years 2005 and 2006, mostly from diseases, a high mortality rate, considering the declining population of about 30,000 Chenchus.


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