June 30, 2009 / 9:39 AM / 8 years ago

India's "silent" village of deaf-mutes

DADHKAI, India (Reuters Life!) - Silence reigns in the sleepy village of Dadhkai, nestled high up in the Himalayan mountains in northern India and where the majority of residents are either deaf or mute.

<p>Rahman Ali (L) and Khak Hussain, both deaf and mute villagers, use sign language to communicate with each other at Dadhkai Village in the Doda district, 260 km (162 miles) north of Jammu, June 18, 2009. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta</p>

Each of the 47 families in this village in Jammu and Kashmir state have a least one member who can neither hear nor speak. The first reported case dates back to 1931 and now the numbers have swelled to 82.

“The birth of a child is a very happy occasion, meant to be celebrated. But here the birth of a child leads to harassment not only for the parents but for the entire village,” said Hashmiddin, a village elder who only goes by one name.

“A deaf and mute child only aggravates problems and increases miseries,” he told Reuters Television.

The village with a picture-postcard setting stands in isolation from the rest of the region, as there are no roads, and no transport connecting it to the outside world. A river cuts it from the neighboring region.

Three years ago, a team of scientists and doctors came from an Indian health institute to study the village’s case, but no conclusive findings have been made public so far.

Some villagers blame it on pollution in the water or air, while others believe they could be cursed, as adjoining villages have not reported any similar disorders.

<p>Muneer Ahmad, a deaf and mute villager, uses sign language to communicate at Dadhkai Village in the Doda district, 260 km (162 miles) north of Jammu, June 18, 2009. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta</p>

But an age-old custom of marrying within the community, coupled with lack of access to medical facilities and immunization, probably led to the large number of deaf and mute cases, says Jan Mohammed, an instructor for the deaf.

“I think it is because of a genetic problem,” Mohammed said. “Close relatives marry here. In the past there was no immunization given and also there is a lack of iodine and salt.”

Lack of education, and hearing aids, has left many locals disillusioned about the future.

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“These days it is so difficult to find matches for well educated normal girls, how will I get my deaf and dumb daughters married,” says Lal Hussain, who has two daughters.

But there have been a lucky few.

Bano Begum, who is not hearing impaired, was married to a deaf and mute man and said their relationship was initially a huge struggle as they could not communicated with each other.

But the couple gave birth to three normal children and learnt to communicate with each other through sign language.

Some experts say the locals should be forced to marry outside their village, which the community rejects. India’s Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad recently said another health team would be sent to the village soon.

Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Miral Fahmy

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