The First Healers

Adivasi women in Jharkhand fight malaria and witchcraft with Hodopathy

Adivasi women prepare herbal medicines for the prevention and cure of malaria during training conducted at Baraiburu in 2002. Treating with herbs has been a traditional indigenous knowledge and an integral part of healing among the Adivasi communities. Gita Raut
30 June, 2022

In 2020, Lalita Boipai, a rural healthcare worker, was conducting tests with malaria kits in her village, Bera Kundrijor, as part of a government survey. She, however, was not prepared for its findings. “Surprised at the zero cases of malaria in my report, I got nervous thinking it would raise questions from the higher authorities,” she told me. “Out of panic, I reported two-three fake cases.”

Bera Kundrijor is one of the 62 villages in the Noamundi block of West Singhbhum district in Jharkhand. The district is highly vulnerable to a malaria endemic. According to the National Vector Borne Disease Control Program, Jharkhand reported 37,133 malaria cases in 2019—in which West Singhbhum alone reported 9,077 cases, the highest in the state. In 2020, the cases in Jharkhand came down to 16,655.

Astounded by the zero malaria cases, Boipai ascribed it to the “malaria kadha” drive in her village. Malaria kadha is a syrup made from locally available forest-based herbs to provide immunity against mosquito bites. Adivasi women groups prepare this kadha at the beginning of each monsoon season, which gets distributed among the villagers—the prescribed dose is half-a-glass for three days on an empty stomach. The kadha has become increasingly popular in the area.

Boipai testified to this success with her personal experience. “Earlier, each month, one of my children would fall sick of malaria. I had spent a lot of money after them,” she told me. “Since I started taking malaria kadha as a preventive medicine against the disease, my family has been free from malaria.”