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Down to Earth - - COVER STORY - VIKAS CHOUD­HARY

evokes an im­agery of pros­per­ity: tall and ro­bust UN­JAB USU­ALLY farm­ers till­ing vast green fields on trac­tors,women milk­ing cows and buf­faloes, chil­dren en­joy­ing glasses of lassi, rich cuisines pre­pared with huge dol­lops of pure ghee and but­ter, an­ces­tral homes sur­rounded by yel­low mus­tard fields and court­yards… A rosy pic­ture, isn’t it? But you may need a lens to find out the stark con­trast.Walk­ingth­roughthe­lanesin­ruralPun­jab,onewit­ness­es­dis­easesand dis­ap­point­ment,in­stead of pros­per­ity and af­flu­ence.

Teja Ruhela in Fazilka dis­trict looks like any other vil­lage. Com­pris­ing about 200 house­holds, the vil­lage mostly has kuchcha houses. Some of them hardly have any ven­ti­la­tion.But peo­ple do not care.At least one-tenth of the house­holds in Teja Ruhela have a mentally chal­lenged kid, ac­cord­ing to Baba Farid Cen­tre for Spe­cial Chil­dren (bfcsc),a non-profit work­ing in the area.“Cere­bral palsy has been af­flict­ing chil­dren in the vil­lage for al­most two decades now,”says Kr­ishn Singh,a lo­cal doc­tor. The truth in his words is re­flected in the wide age group of cere­bral palsy pa­tients. The vil­lage res­i­dents have ac­cepted their di­lap­i­dated ex­is­tence,just like they have ac­cepted the preva­lence of cere­bral palsy among their chil­dren.

Four-year-old Dilkhur­shaid Var­val,or Dilkhush as he is fondly called,suf­fers from cere­bral palsy. He lies cross-legged and mo­tion­less on a cot in the court­yard. He has never walked,eaten or bathed on his own.He oc­ca­sion­ally rolls his eyes,for that is all he can do. His fa­ther, Swarn Singh, is un­moved as he speaks about his son. He says

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