Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Often forced to live in tin shacks without proper clothing, Nepal's poor have tried to counter the cold of recent months by drinking home-made alcoholic beverages, with a high risk of poisoning.
Every year, dozens of people die in the poorest villages from the cold. The authorities usually ignore the problem and have done nothing to help the people at risk, who could survive if they had proper woollen clothes and stoves.
The latest case occurred yesterday in the village of Portaha, Sihara District (southern Nepal) on the border with India.
Six people from the Mushahar community, low-caste Hindus marginalised by the rest of the population, died after drinking a home-brewed alcoholic beverage.
The tragedy has so shaken the villagers to push the elderly to organise a magic ritual to ward off the evil spirits held responsible for the tragedy.
Nathuni Shadaya, who lives in Portaha, is convinced that "some evil entities are attacking the village. All the residents, including my mother, began to pray to the spirits. We are organising a special meeting with Hindu holy men to appease the demons and stop their wrath against us."
Local authorities accuse the government and politicians of ignoring these tragedies. In order to avoid doing something, they prefer to leave these people at the mercy of superstition.
The six Mushahar were poisoned from a mixture of methyl alcohol, which is very harmful to the human body, said Sihara District chief health officer Shankarlal Karna.
"With the cold season," he explained, "the poor and marginalised do not have the opportunity to buy warm clothes, so to protect themselves from low temperatures, they resort to highly alcoholic beverages. These are home-brewed and sold cheaply, resulting in dozens of people dying each year from poisoning."