People sell kidneys to beat starvation in West Bengal village
BINDOL (NORTH DINAJPUR): In these arid, impoverished parts, Bindol has another name - kidney village. The wasted, skeletal men and women you would see slumped under the shade of trees are awaiting death with feeble breaths. This is the kidney sale capital of the state, perhaps of the country. Every second home here has someone who has sold his kidney to escape starvation. Many die within years.
Now, the dying men have started forcing their wives to give up a kidney.
Bindol's infamy has spread by word of mouth. Dusty tracks trail of the eastern highway to Bangladesh to take you to this village, barely 35km from the district headquarters of Raiganj. The greenery of Dinajpur changes into an arid landscape. Here and there in the dry, sandy waste there are patches of green maize plants. No trace of paddy or wheat. The villagers, mostly tribals, lie dozing off the effects of homemade liquor.
But the name of Razzak perks them up. They lead you to his mansion in the Bajbindol area stands in sharp contrast to the hapless backdrop. Razzak is the 'dalal' (agent) you meet if you are desperate for a kidney. The price: Rs 3-4 lakh. Razzak has no problem finding donors. The villagers know they may be signing their death warrant if they accept Razzak's offer, but the payout - Rs 60,000 to Rs 1 lakh - is impossible to ignore.
Lakshmiram Hansda sold his kidney - and his life - for Rs 80,000. On Wednesday, TOI saw him lying under a tree near his hut, gaunt, emaciated and hapless. He says he is 35 but looks 60. With no land of his own and a wife and daughter to feed, Lakshmiram had gone to Mumbai to work as labourer in 2000, like hundreds of local youths. But it brought him little money. When someone offered Rs 80,000 for a kidney, it seemed like a good deal.
The money kept the family fed for only a few months. Soon after the surgery, Lakshmiram lost his strength to work. His starving wife and daughter deserted him. He now lives on an NGO's mercy, and is counting his days.
Not far from where Hansda lies, a group sits having drinks in a hut. Munshi Tudu, Jogen Hansda, Chhoto Murmu and Lapong Soren - all in thirties - are happy as only drunken men can be. They all survive on one kidney. Two years ago, Lapong had been to Kolkata where he had his kidney removed for Rs 1 lakh. What did he do with the money? "Bought a motorcycle, gave a part to my wife and... don't know what I did with the rest," he was not interested in recalling any more. They drink to forget that they don't have a future.
The scourge has spread to nearby villages like Jalipara and Balia. Thirty-two-year-old Dulal Jali of Jalipara narrates his story, "It's next to impossible for a fisherman to make ends meet. So I accepted the offer of Kuddus (another agent) of Rs 1 lakh for a kidney. It was about four years ago. I got operated in Kolkata." Now with weakness a part of life, Dulal suffers along with his wife and daughter. "I cannot stay under the sun for long, I can hardly catch fish."
There are those who complain that they were paid too little. Jatin Jali, who went with Razzak in 1998, still rues that he got only Rs 30,000.
In the last couple of years, the tragedy has taken an ominous turn with the men forcing their wives to sell their kidneys. Astomi Malakar, who was married to Dilip Burman four years back when still in her teens, says: "My husband took me to Kolkata with another person two years ago. I already had a child by then. I was admitted to a hospital. I don't know what happened there but I have a surgery scar in my back."
The Sripur Mahila O Khadi Unnayan Samity, an NGO, has been working with the victims but it's tough to create awareness when the villagers are willing to take the risk. "Every year these rural folk are forced to migrate to cities to feed their family. They often find themselves in the clutches of the beasts that run the racket." There have been cases when an unwilling victim was doped and operated upon and not paid a paisa.
Bhattacharya said that they have repeatedly complained to police about agents like Razzak and Kuddus. "Razzak was arrested two years back but released in a few months. None dared to speak against him," said a local.
The terrifying truth is that the hapless villagers see the Razzaks as messiahs. Thus, Anita Jali, a homemaker in Jalipara, finds nothing wrong in haggling for a better price. "We are three of us - me, my husband and father-in-law. They offered us Rs 6 lakh, but we demanded at least Rs 8 lakh," she said.