How This 65-Year-Old Woman Became a Messiah to Villagers in Pain
Sadhni (second from left), with her patients.
Sadhni (second from left), with her patients.(Photo Courtesy: Lesley D Biswas)

How This 65-Year-Old Woman Became a Messiah to Villagers in Pain

When I arrive at Sadhni’s hut on the outskirts of Konka village in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district, she’s visibly busy. She points me to a mat under a palash tree, and dashes off to milk her cow before the calf drinks up the milk.

I settle down, and while I wait for her to wrap up her morning chores, I take in the serene surrounds, hills and deciduous forest that rise up just behind her village. It’s stunning, but the remote location – Konka village is 65 kilometres from the closest city Ranchi – makes people like Sadhni all the more invaluable.

In a recent report in an Indian daily that published statistics from the World Health Organization, India is in the category of countries that face acute shortage of healthcare providers – with Jharkhand being one of the worst hit states.

Sadhni’s village is no exception when it comes to shortage of healthcare practitioners – with the closest orthopaedic specialist being at Dakra or Mandar hospital, both a 45- minute drive away, and available on prior appointment.

“I’m Never Free”

I soon realise that I’m not the only one there vying for her time. Sadhni’s patients wait inside her hut. “Should I come back later, when you’re free?” I ask, after she mentions that she hasn’t had time for breakfast.

“I’m never free. Even when I’m out in the maidans, grazing my cattle, patients follow me there,’” she chuckles, and adds, “Some come from far off towns like Latehar and Patratu. I can’t ask them to wait or to come back later!”
Sadhni going about her daily chores.
Sadhni going about her daily chores.
(Photo Courtesy: Lesley D Biswas)

Sadhni, who goes by her first name, is 65, maybe more, she cannot recount correctly, has no formal medical training, and has been attending to patients’ orthopaedic needs for the past 45 years. She picked up her skills watching her mother practise, and today, Sadhni is one amongst the many untrained rural medical practitioners in India’s healthcare system who attend to midnight calls and are at the patient’s bedside in an emergency when no doctor is available or accessible.

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Relying on Massages and Stretches

Unlike with many quacks, Sadhni’s patients don’t run a risk of suffering side-effects since she doesn’t prescribe allopathic medicine and relies solely on trusted traditional techniques widespread across rural India, like massage, stretching and manipulation of pressure points to alleviate muscle and joint pains.

“I diagnose the problem by simple touch. I don’t treat fractures, but can provide relief for other problems like bone dislocation, muscle pull and sprains,” Sadhni says, as her fingers run up and down 67-year-old Dennis Meredith’s arm.
Sadhni attends to Dennis Meredith.
Sadhni attends to Dennis Meredith.
(Photo Courtesy: Lesley D Biswas)

“Here,” she presses, and he grimaces as she exerts pressure on a point near his shoulder. She dips her fingers into a bowl of mustard oil and begins messaging his arm with smooth, deft strokes, that she says will stimulate the blood circulation. Post a few twists and stretches, she asks him to move his arm. Dennis moves his arm a couple of times.

“She’s very effective,” he smiles, as he hands her Rs 50. “She’s even treated my pet dog, when Bhuttu suffered a dislocation of her foreleg in the middle of the night. Whenever I feel a muscle pull in my back or hand, I come to Sadhni first, and she sets it right,” he adds.

Offering a Respite From Pain

However, for 19-year-old Sima Devi, it’s the other way round. Sima’s from Barkakana, a small town 75 kilometres away, and has been suffering for the past two years from acute abdomen pain.

“I couldn’t even sit with the pain. I visited every doctor in my hometown, went to doctor’s chambers in nearby Ramgarh and Bhurkunda, but the pain would always relapse after medication got over. One doctor even suspected appendicitis. I’m petrified of surgery, but thankfully it didn’t come to that.”

After her marriage, Sima moved to her in-laws’ home in Konka village, where she heard about Sadhni. According to Sadhni, Sima has a kind of gastrointestinal disorder. “I’ve worked on her stomach muscles to relax them and ease her bowel movements,” she says, adding that old ailments like hers must be given time. Sima, who’s here for another routine massage, says, “Regular visits to Sadhni have benefitted immensely. There is still some discomfort when I do household chores, but I feel much better now.”

Sadhni explains why women like Sima are also susceptible to musculoskeletal problems and recovery is delayed.

“For the treatment to be fully effective, they must follow my advice with regard to proper posture when doing household chores, lifting heavy loads and rest. How will she ever recover if she continues to climb rooftops and lift heavy buckets of water?” quips Sadhni.
Sadhni, seated in front of her hut in Konka village.
Sadhni, seated in front of her hut in Konka village.
(Photo Courtesy: Lesley D Biswas)

Gurcharan Bhuia, aged 50, is from Gartua village, a few kilometres from Konka and has recently visited Sadhni with a wrist sprain. “I’d been to Sadhni long ago when I suffered a muscle pull in my leg and she corrected it. A few days back I sprained my wrist, and went to her again. Many people from my village visit her for their aches and pains. She sometimes assists midwifes, but mainly treats orthopaedic problems. And is always available,” he says.

Despite responding to patients 24/7, Sadhni doesn’t have fixed consultation fees. There are instances when she’s treated them for free, but more often, out of relief or gratitude, patients give her more than she expected. “Once, a police officer gave me Rs 500 for treating his shoulder pain and a little girl made her grandmother pay me the same amount for saving her cat,” says Sadhni.

(Lesley D Biswas is a freelance writer who writes articles on parenting, environment, travel and women, besides fiction.)

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