Fears grow as ‘chamki’ fever kills 100 children in Bihar

Youngsters demonstrate in New Delhi on Monday against the deaths of children from encephalitis in Bihar. (Reuters)
Updated 17 June 2019

Fears grow as ‘chamki’ fever kills 100 children in Bihar

  • Multi-disciplinary institute planned to identify reason behind disease
  • Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, caused by viruses. Symptoms include high fever, vomiting

NEW DELHI: When Arun Ram took his four-year-old daughter Sandhya Kumari to hospital in late May, he thought she was suffering from fever brought on by a seasonal virus.

But within 12 hours of her admission his daughter had died.

The initially mild fever had run out of control, causing mental disorientation, seizures and delirium.

Kumari was among more than 100 children who fell victim to acute encephalitis syndrome in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

The state’s central districts of Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Sheohar and East Champaran are worst affected. Official estimates suggest a death toll of 130, with 15 children under the age of 10 dying on Sunday alone.

Locally, the syndrome is known as “chamki” fever.

“In my hospital, 291 patients have been admitted, 91 have been discharged and 83 have lost their lives up until Monday,” said Dr. Sunil Kumar Sahi, medical superintendent of Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur.

“The cause of the death is not known,” he told Arab News.

“This is matter of research. We follow a medical protocol in treating such patients because all the children are suffering from inflammation of brain or encephalopathy.

“We are telling the people that they should not come out in the heat, and they should eat on time. If there is a fever, they should take a cold bath and take medicine.” 

Sanjay Kumar, Bihar government’s principal secretary, said that the disease had affected 222 blocks in 12 districts in central Bihar.

On Sunday, a five-year-old girl died in front of Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan while he was visiting the hospital.

“The situation is really grim in the area adjoining Muzaffarpur. The death toll has reached 127, but government data is still not giving a clear picture,” Raj Kumar, a local reporter, said.

The government has announced it will set up a 100-bed hospital to ease the growing concern in the region. 

A team of doctors has been deployed in central Bihar’s main hospitals to handle the growing number of cases.

“A multi-disciplinary institute will be set up here in the next year to identify the reason behind this disease,” the health minister said.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.