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The Rediff Special/Priya Ganapati in Bangalore

October 17, 2003

n the villages of Bihar, small scuffles can have incomprehensible ramifications.

As Dhanvir Yadav and his family discovered.

On the night of September 13, Dhanvir Yadav -- all of 14 -- had his eyes gouged out with a sickle by a group of boys on the reported orders of a sarpanch of a nearby village.

His crime is still unclear.

"I don't know when I was beaten and hurt. They called me cycle chor [thief]. I don't know what they are talking about. I only knew Ranvir in the crowd and we had a fight a few days ago," says Dhanvir who is currently undergoing treatment at the Agarwal eye hospital in Bangalore.

Blindings are not a new form of punishment in Bihar.

Twenty-three years ago, the Bhagalpur blindings case, where the police blinded 31 undertrials, shook up the country. Recently two people in Bhojpur had their eyes cut out, for their alleged involvement in theft, while the eyes of three others were gouged out in Nawada for allegedly outraging the modesty of a woman.

Even after the case of Dhanvir became known, another boy was blinded for allegedly stealing bulls.

The eldest in a family of seven children, Dhanvir has spent most of his years grazing buffaloes and looking after livestock in his village, Barkhi Kothiya, in Khagaria district in Bihar.

His father Sriram Yadav, a contract labourer earns about Rs 70 a day and the family stays in a thatched house with a single room.

About three months ago, Dhanvir ran into Ranvir, an older boy who used to graze his herd nearby. The acquaintance soon turned into a tentative friendship.

But one evening, a fight broke out between the two over 'chana' [gram] which Dhanvir refused to share with his friend.

It seemed like a small tiff till a few days later, when Dhanvir went to visit his aunt's house. Suddenly Ranvir came over and told him that his mother was ill and he would take him back to his parents immediately.

An unsuspecting Dhanvir went along, only to be taken to a nearby village, Mathrapur, where about 15 boys lay in wait for him. They took him forcibly to the sarpanch -- headman -- of the village and said that he was a 'cycle chor.'

The sarpanch, Ashok Singh, then allegedly declared that Dhanvir should be beaten and his eyes taken out.

"The boys tied my hands and legs and started beating me with sticks. There must have been 15 to 20 of them. It hurt a lot and beyond that I can't remember now," says Dhanvir.

What Dhanvir can't remember is the most gruesome part. With a sickle commonly used for cutting grass, his eyes were gouged out.

Bleeding and in extreme pain, he was thrown on the road where a few villagers saw him and took him to the nearby hospital.

His father heard about the incident only the next morning.

"I thought he was to stay over at his aunt's house. Next morning some people told me my son is sick and in hospital since his eyes have been damaged," Sriram Yadav said.

He tried to file a police complaint but since he did not know the perpetrators, the local constable instead asked him to name an unknown person. In turn, he assured him he would get five acres of land as compensation. Sriram Yadav refused.

"I cannot name someone I don't know. It is wrong to do that. We are common people and we don't want to hurt anyone," he said.

The district magistrate heard of the incident and arranged for Dhanvir and his parents to be taken to the government hospital in Patna.

It was the family's first trip to Patna. With no money, no place to stay in the city and just one kilo of 'sattu' (powdered gram) in hand, the family went to Patna to get Dhanvir treated.

For a week, he was treated at the government hospital.

On September 17, Dr Sunita Agarwal, an ophthalmologist who runs the Agarwal Eye Hospital in Bangalore, read about Dhanvir in a newspaper.

She immediately called up the newspaper's editor and offered to treat Dhanvir if he could be traced and brought to

"There is always tragedy we keep hearing about. In this case I could do something about the situation as we have cutting edge technology. I cannot do anything to save his vision but I could do something to give him a face," says Dr Agarwal.

And that is where some much needed help from the government came by. Dilip Verma, a Bihar MLA, took on Dhanvir's case. Verma got Aviation Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the MP from Chhapra in Bihar, to sponsor air tickets for Dhanvir and his father to Bangalore.

Verma sent his personal secretary to escort the duo till Bangalore.

In Bangalore, Dr Agarwal went to the airport to pick up Dhanvir and his father. It was almost midnight by the time he was brought to the hospital.

She could not wait to examine the boy. When the bandages were removed off a grisly sight confronted her.

Dhanvir's right eyeball was carved out and hanging loose. It was held up only by a few folds of skin. His lower eyelid was gone and the eyeball had popped out. In his left eye, the upper eyelid had been cut and the eye had inflamed to over twice its size.

The boy's face had puffed up and looked barely human.

"I thought I had seen it all in my 40 years -- gunshot wounds, knife wounds, war injuries. But this was a really gory sight. The eyeball was gored open, cut like an egg and there were blood clots surrounding it. There was no lid and the left eye was
swollen terribly," recalls Dr Agarwal.

So startled was she that she asked Sriram Yadav how he had managed to keep his sanity only to learn that his father had never seen the boy's damaged eyes. They had been bandaged before he could have a look.

Dr Agarwal immediately went to operate and tried to reconstruct part of the lower eyelid to help support the eye.

Skin was grafted from the cheek to build the lower eyelid.

Three weeks after the incident, Dhanvir was still in shock. He did not respond to Dr Agarwal's questions.

While operating on him under local anesthesia, Dr Agarwal had one of her assistants talk to him and found that whenever a
mention of the grisly incident was made his blood pressure and heart rate would drop significantly.

"It must have been very painful when they cut out his eyes. I can't imagine how he lived for three weeks with his right eye hanging out like that," shudders Dr Agarwal.

Dhanvir has already been through two operations on his right eye and one on his left eye. Because there is no eyeball in the right eye, the eye tends to shrivel and shrink. To prevent that, a prosthesis has been inserted.

Reconstructive surgery will cost anywhere between Rs 10 lakhs (Rs 1 million) and Rs 20 lakhs (Rs 2 million). If all goes well, Dhanvir will be able to someday get artificial eyes that look like real ones.

But with the optic nerves cut, he can never hope to see again.

"There is no muscle movement at all in his eyes. Even if you are blind in most cases you can blink or move your eyes. Dhanvir can't even do that. If even part of the muscle movement comes back we can insert artificial eyes," says Dr Agarwal.

Though no police complaint has still been filed, Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi has ordered an enquiry into the incident.

Ashok Singh, the sarpanch, is absconding.

Dhanvir's family in Bihar is running up debts since its sole earning member, Sriram Yadav, is currently with him in Bangalore.

"In the village they are borrowing a little money from here and there for food till I get back. Once I go back, I will work and repay the debts," says Sriram Yadav.

As for Dhanvir, the cowherd who never knew a world beyond the boundaries of his village, this is the farthest he has ever traveled. But it is a world he cannot see or comprehend.

He says he wants to return to grazing buffaloes and feeding them grass.

But with no vision, it is a life he can never go back to. And that is only now slowly dawning on him.

Talking about what the future holds, his face turns stony and he swallows hard.

Dhanvir doesn't even have tears left to shed.

Photographs: Priya Ganpati. Main image: Lynette Menezes

If you want to help Dhanvir Yadav, send in your contributions to
Dhanvir Yadav
C/o Dr Sunita Agarwal
Agarwal Eye Hospital
15, Eagle Street
Bangalore 560025
Dr Sunita Agarwal can also be mailed on with the subject line: Dhanvir Yadav.

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