The Cervical Cancer Bazaar

YOUNG GIRLS ARE BEING GIVEN ANTI-CANCER JABS, WITH DUBIOUS RESULTS, FIND SHANTANU GUHA RAY AND KUNAL MAJUMDER

EACH TIME Nageshwara and Venkatamma are asked about Sarita, the farm labourers point to a framed photograph of their daughter. And then they huddle near the entrance of their one-room house in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh and weep inconsolably, recounting a tale of death that came home without warning.

On January 21 this year, Venkatamma found the motionless body of her 13-year-old daughter on the floor. At first she thought her daughter — a student of Lakshminagaram Residential Hostel — had consumed pesticide to commit suicide, possibly after a failed love affair. But the pesticide bottle was intact on the shelf. Sarita was rushed to the nearest healthcare centre where a small team of paramedics and a doctor confirmed that it wasn’t a case of poisoning and referred Sarita to the Bhadrachalam area hospital, 25 km from their house in Anjupaka village. En route, Sarita had a severe epileptic fit. Doctors at the hospital declared that she was “brought dead” and conducted a postmortem. The report was not handed to the parents. At the Nallipaka Public Health Centre (PHC)—which records all births and deaths in the region — Sarita’s death was recorded as suicide. Nageshwara and Venkatamma refused to accept this and cremated their daughter under protest.

“My daughter did not commit suicide. She did not consume poison,” Nageshwara says firmly. “She had started having fits after the vaccine. She told us, so did the hostel supervisor. The hospital officers are lying.” Dr R Balasudha, a paramedic at the PHC in the Narshapuram block under which Anjupaka village falls, adds: “Sarita was not dead when she was brought to the PHC. She did not consume any poison. She was having severe bouts of epileptic attacks and was very, very sick.”

Read the rest in Tehelka issue dated March 20, 2010

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