Imphal, May 3
For 62 year old Kh Tonjaoba a resident of Nakhai village of Bishenpur District, April 20 this year brought a dreaded experience which he had feared all his life. He was bitten by a snake and soon realized its consequences when the snake venom immediately began to take effect. Fortunately, for him, a medical team from the nearby Army unit responded with speed and attended to him. Tonjaoba survived the life-threatening event much to the relief of his family and community members. Though a common occurrence in rural Manipur, fatalities from snakebites remains a constant threat for most locals who for their livelihood must venture into snake habitats into the countryside.
Manipur is blessed with an amazing variety of flora and fauna,its natural riches are home to a variety of reptiles including several species of snakes, many of which are venomous. Most lethal of these include the Monocle Cobra, the Common Krait and the Russel’s Viper. Compared to other parts of India, the natural abundance of Manipur along with its climate and jungle terrain favours snakes extensively.Depending on their survival characteristics and food habits, habitat of snakes varies from jungles to fields and at times even extending in proximity to populated areas. Human settlements located on fringes of jungles witness comparatively higher instances of snakebites. The ever-expanding human footprint further exasperates the situation increasing chance encounters with snakes often resulting in a fatality.
For many locals, their primary occupation being farming and fishery requires them to work and move in paddy fields or fishponds, which are also favourable habitats for most snakes in Manipur. Based on available data, maximum snakebites occur in the months from April to October. This is attributable to the prevailing monsoons in forcing snakes out of their burrows into paddy fields and fishponds in search of prey.Due to cultivation of rice and fish ponds filled to the brim in monsoons, the corresponding activity of humans also increases. This sharply raises the risk of snakebites. Not withstanding their menacing credence, snakes are inherently extremely shy and avoid humans or other larger animals. Most snakebites,however, occur when snakes feel threatened activating their defense mechanism to save itself. Fortunately, in most instances,the snake is either non-venomous or is unable to inject venom into the victim. For the other unfortunate few a venomous snakebite, becomes a life and death situation.
Such cases of snakebite require immediate medical intervention to ensure survivability of the victim. While snakebites remain common, the corresponding medical care infrastructure in Manipur for treatment remains nascent at best with very few hospitals or medical centers capable of holistic management of a snakebite case. As a result, fatalities resulting from snakebites are unfortunately common. The paramount reason for this inadequacy has been the non-availability of appropriate Anti-venom without which assured survivability is suspect.
Under such circumstances, the Army & Assam Rifles units deployed in Manipur have provided much relief to the local population. With their extensive presence in Manipur including in remote and desolate areas, primarily for conduct of Counter Insurgency Operations, units of Army and Assam Rifles often remain the only medical succor to ailing individuals. These units are essentially equipped with medical means to cater to their own personnel, however, very often, for humanitarian considerations; medical teams from these units provide medical assistance to civilian populations living in their proximity. Such medical teams often go beyond their call of their duty to treat locals including snakebite victims; as a result they have acquired extensive reverence for saving precious lives often from venomous snakebites. These medical teams have a credible 100% impeccable record of saving snakebite victims. A recent study indicates that out of the total 133 snake bite instances reported within Imphal Valley in the last year, only 34 victims reported to RIMS and the vast majority of 99 victims preferred being treated by Army or Assam Rifles medical teams.
Very often an extremely restricted view, confined to security dimension of the Army or the Assam Rifles comes to the fore.However, ask a snakebite victim saved by an Army or Assam Rifles medical team and he or she will vouch for so much more that these organistations do for the people of Manipur.Ask any of these medical teams,instead and they will simply shrug their shoulders and say, ‘we are just doing our duty serving the citizens of India’. It is indeed only appropriate that they get their due and are recogonised for their yeoman service to the people of Manipur.