Lost hope, lost smiles: Forgoing dates and water, people of Thatta break fast with gutka

A user says she has found small stones, pins, nails and other harmful content in gutka packets.

Sameer Mandhro July 11, 2013
Two minor boys and a woman of village Bodo Reedar Samoon hooked on gutka chew the toxic substance. PHOTO: EXPRESS

THATTA: It seems too many of them have forgotten how to laugh. With red-black stains on their teeth, the women of village Bodo Reedar Samoon think before smiling in front of a stranger. The walls and courtyards speak volumes of the excess use of gutka in the village, some 10 kilometres away from Thatta city.

Women in this particular village are addicted to substandard gutka, and on an average spend Rs50 to Rs60 on it daily. The cost of a pack of gutka ranges from Rs3 to Rs5 and are brought in from Thatta city.

Though the women in the village feel dizzy and sometimes suffer through a headache, they don’t believe they have contracted any major disease. “I am chewing on gutka for the last 10 years and know all of them who use it,” said 45-year-old Zulekhan, whose six-year-old son also uses the carcinogenic substance. “It is not harmful for children. We follow in the footsteps of our men and then the children also take up its use.”

The villagers say that gutka is now a part of their meals, adding that they could live without food but not without the product. “We even break our fast by chewing on it,” said another woman.

Zulekhan explained that: “I see women carrying dozens of gutka packs during wedding ceremonies. It is now common in most of the villages,” she added.

Naziran, 40, said she had found small stones, pins, nails and other harmful content in the packets. “Sometimes this sort of material injures our tongue and gums, but who cares,” she added. Naziran’s eight-year-old son Mehtab is also a regular user. “So what if my child chews on it?” she questioned.

Amazingly, infants who can barely crawl also lick on the wrappers of gutka as their mothers go about with their daily lives.

“The use of gutka is higher in villages than in cities. It is common everywhere and I can say that at least 50 per cent population of Thatta population chews on it,” claimed the dentist at Thatta Civil hospital,  Dr Shaam Kumar. “People have developed a habit of it. They can’t give it up,” he stressed.

Dr Kumar informed The Express Tribune that the cases of oral cancer were at its peak in Thatta. “It is the only district in Sindh where gutka is used in such a great quantity. Seven women of a village visited me today and six of them had pre-cancer symptoms.” The dentist said that gutka users were mostly aged between five years to above 60 years. “It’s because of illiteracy and lack of awareness. There is a 100 per cent chance of contracting oral cancer for such users.”

Dr Kumar has been posted in Thatta for the last 13 years and has been visited by gutka users ever since. “People in this area used to chew betel leaf earlier, but now gutka is common. The users say they’ll give it up in their grave.”

“My customers range from young boys to aged women. I sell them without hesitation and don’t know that there is a ban on gutka,” said Shahid, a cabin wala in Gujo town of Thatta. “It is a profitable business. I can make around Rs200 profit daily just by selling gutka.”

A social worker on the condition of anonymity informed The Express Tribune that influential people were involved in this business. “They make profit in millions per month and even bribe police officials. There are big factories in Thatta, Sajawal and other major towns of the district. All know it is harmful, but no one takes action.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2013.

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