Follow Us:

Where deity is the first ‘doctor’

Archana Phull/SNS | Shimla |

In this land of gods, the deities seem to have more ‘say’
even in the matters of health.

Surprising, but true, in some interior pockets of Himachal
Pradesh, the local deity is the first doctor that any ailing villager visits.

The ‘devtas’ are deep rooted in the socio-cultural psyche of
hill folks in parts of Mandi, Kullu, Shimla, Sirmour and  Chamba districts of Himachal Pradesh.

So much so that unaware villagers look to these local Gods
for every solution and are bound by faith to seek the advice of deity for
‘faith healing’ on ailment and then go to hospital, lapsing precious time.

It often proves them dear, but the locals again consider it
the deity’s wish. 

Visibly, while the tough terrain hampers the access of
people to health facilities in Himachal Pradesh, the cultural beliefs also pose
a major barrier in the process.

 “In Janjeili belt in
Mandi, roughly 40 per cent communities still go to local deity or their
representatives for health problems. The educated people, who have left the
villages, however don’t do it,” Bimla Vishavpremi, an activist with Peoples’
Campaign for Socio-Economic Equality in Himachal told The Statesman.

The organisation was sensitized to study the phenomenon in
Janjeili after they saw the resistance to rush a school going girl, who fell
unconscious due to epilepsy fit, to a far off hospital in Mandi (which involved
two hours trek), with elders at home more keen to consult the deity first.

In some villages in Kullu, even the delivery place for child
birth is decided by ‘devta’. Only if the deity allows, they go for
institutional delivery.  On return, they
have to thank the deity and organize a feast.

They don’t defy the cultural belief, fearing wrath.

It is no different in the topographically isolated pockets
of Dodra Kwar, Chopal, Nerwa and Kupvi in Shimla, Aani and Nirmand in Kullu or
Shillai and Haripur Dhar in Sirmour. Said Sarita, who mans the DOTS (Directly
Observed Treatment Short Course) centre under Tuberculosis Control Programme at
Community Health Centre (CHC) in Kupvi,“Many people here waste a lot of time
even in bad cough. When they don’t recover with traditional methods, they rush
for medical intervention. By that time, they turn critical and are referred to
bigger health institutions in Nerwa, from there to Chopal and ultimately
distantly located Shimla. Sometimes, it delays treatment beyond repair.”

The cultural issue has caught the attention of  researchers at the state run Indira Gandhi
Medical College (IGMC), Shimla too. “A study in some remote HP villages has
indicated that tradition of involving deities for cure of health problems, and
not exposing new born babies to outer world before a specific ritual delay the
utilization of primary health services like immunization and ante- natal care
etc,” said Dr SR Mazta, Head of the department of Community Medicine at IGMC.

Dr Mazta called for strong awareness programme in interior
belts, with the government now providing health care facilities to village
folks at the doorstep.