R. Ilangovan

The unusual concentration of paralytics is a mater of concern: official Unusual concentration of paralytics is a matter of concern: official

NAMAKKAL: Sixty-year-old K. Subramanian has to walk with a stick and is confined to a coir cot placed under the shade of a tree in his field for the last 15 months.

This one-time progressive farmer of Kavakkaranpatti in Erumapatti union in Namakkal district and father of three children suffers from partial paralysis and has been diagnosed with having "recurrent spells of confusion in association with violent fits." He is seized by bouts of depression and is on antidepressants.

His wife and three children till his three acres land, which once was a rich paddy field. They now grow onions and groundnuts as alternative crops to keep their hearth warm and to meet the astronomical medical expenses of the family head.

It has now been a hand-to-mouth existence for the entire family, which once enjoyed good yield and, hence, prosperity. "The water in our well was abundant then. We in this small region grew paddy, which not only fetched us remunerative prices but also ensured us rice for the year. The cattle received green fodder," reminisces Pappathi, wife of Subramanian.

Shattered dreams

But the drought since 2001 has not only shattered their dreams but also forced them to take up the alternative crop, which has proved to be disastrous. She is worried at the soaring medical expenses and the social obligation to get her daughter married.

Subramanian's is not the only family to suffer from paralytic illness in this region. A preliminary survey undertaken by an independent group of village youths, headed by a research scholar in economics R. Chelladurai, has pointed out that the region sits on a tiny but powerful agrarian crisis that could ruin the farmers' lives.

Forty of them, mostly small and medium landholders in the age group of 30-70 in the total population of 4,000, have been suffering from similar such symptoms. A few have died unable to meet the medical expenses.

A quick look at a few clinical investigation reports has revealed that all of them have been diagnosed with suffering from hypertension, recurrent spells of depression, altered sensorium and limb weakness. The reports claim that 70 per cent of them have no previous history of hypertension. They are non-alcoholics and non-smokers and hard working.

"The unusual concentration of paralytics in this particular pocket surprises us and causes worry," says the Deputy Director (Health) R. Sampathkumar, who sent a medical team to ascertain the facts. "Water as the reason is ruled out."

Ramifications

But social analysts fear that this syndrome, if not studied and treated scientifically would trigger a strong socio-economic ramification. They believe that the forced shifting of the crop pattern from the traditional paddy to other crops due to persistent drought and water depletion has been the primary cause behind the malady. Water has fallen to 800 feet forcing them to invest heavily in bore wells.

Before the drought, the farmers here were the "neighbours' envy" in the arid Namakkal district. They enjoyed a good yield of paddy (35 bags of 75 kg per acre) being irrigated on 3,750 hectares. The yield was a sustained one till the drought struck. Now the onions are being raised in 600 hectares with an average yield per acre of 60 bags of 80 kg each. But poor yield and meagre remuneration have forced them to face an uncertain future.

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