Gadchiroli July 7 (District Correspondent) Well known social worker and public health expert Dr. Abhay Bang has drawn the attention of the President of India towards the very sensitive issue of ‘stigmatizing the tribals and Dalits over Sickle Cell disease’ and has urged upon her to stop the ‘targeted population screening of these people’.
Taking an opportunity of the President’s visit to the tribal dominated district of Gadchiroli, Dr. Bang, who himself is the ‘Chairman of the Expert Committee on Tribal Health’ has sent a memorandum to the President Draupadi Murmu in this regard expressing his concern towards the health and social issues of the tribals and Dalits in India.
Tribal people have often expressed their anguish by way of violence such as the Naxalite movement in Gadchiroli or the current violence in Manipur. The PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and the Forest Rights Act have been very potent and effective solutions to tribal unrest. Gadchiroli district has led the country in the implementation of these two. Will the honourable president ensure that these two solutions are effectively implemented nationally, Dr. Bang has asked.
‘The Expert Committee on Tribal Health, constituted by the Government of India, and chaired by me, concluded in the first ever national report on tribal health that the tribal people have the worst health status but they receive the worst health care in India’, Bang has pointed out in the letter. A roadmap for the future, recommending a Tribal Health Mission and annual allocation of nearly Rs. 30,000 crores have been recommended. Five years of inaction have passed. Tribal people continue to suffer the highest rates of malaria, malnutrition and child mortality, he has further mentioned and has asked whether the honourable president play her role to protect the tribal lives?
The Government of India and the state governments are conducting population screening in nearly 270 districts for a genetic disease called Sickle Cell Disease. This gene is found among 10 to 20 percent of the tribal and Dalit population. Those found to have a single gene (the trait) are given the Sickle cards, with instruction not to marry with a sickle partner. Moreover, those who have Sickle gene inherited from both parents – (about one percent probability), and severe symptoms certainly need and deserve special attention at the health centres.
However, the population screening is a futile exercise because those detected to have sickle trait usually hide that ‘defect’ in the marriage market, defeating the original purpose. Worse, it stigmatizes the STs and SCs in India to be genetically inferior as evidenced by the nature’s stamp of Sickle. In reality, Sickle originated as a nature’s boon to the original people to protect them from malaria. A natural gift is turned by this program into a ‘curse’, befalling certain castes – thus turning the already existing social discrimination in to an excuse for genetically ‘proven’ racial discrimination, Dr. Bang has said.
Will the honorable President stop this targeted population screening that has disastrous potential consequences to the tribal people and the Dalits in India, he has asked while concluding the letter.