Assam: The wild mushrooms killing India tea garden workers

May 20, 2022 11:00 am

[Source: BBC News]

When Anjali Kharia sat down for dinner with her daughter on 8 April, she didn’t know this would be their last meal together.

After a long day of work at a tea garden in Assam’s Chapatoli village, Ms Kharia had made her way home, walking through the gentle curves of the hills around her village. She ate and slept immediately.

Around 3 am, she woke up to the sound of her six-year-old daughter Sushmita vomiting violently. Then she became nauseous and began to shiver and shake.

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When her condition persisted all night, Ms Kharia grew worried. And when her son and father-in-law also started to throw up just hours later, she panicked.

“All of them were puking at once,” Ms Kharia, 37, says. “Then they developed terrible and unrelenting diarrhoea.”

Soon, she realised that several others in her neighbourhood had similar symptoms that night. “It was like a nightmare. Everyone was throwing up but no one knew why.”

As the sun rose over the village, which is located in Dibrugarh district, Ms Kharia rushed with her daughter to a nearby pharmacy, which gave her some saline water and medicine.

An ambulance was called to take other patients to the hospital, so she used the last of her savings to send her father-in-law and son with them. “I didn’t send my daughter because she was feeling better after taking the medicine,” Ms Kharia says. “I thought she would be fine soon.”

In less than 24 hours, her daughter started vomiting again. This time, Ms Kharia didn’t have the money to take her to the hospital. Sushmita died in her arms hours later.

It was later found that all those who fell sick that day had consumed some wild mushrooms, which Ms Kharia’s father-in-law had plucked from a nearby forest and distributed among his neighbours. Apart from Sushmita, two more people died from mushroom poisoning, official records confirmed. A total of 11 people were admitted to the hospital.

A month on, the village is still unmoored by the tragedy.

“I will never forget that night, I thought no one would survive,” says Neha Lama, 36, whose in-laws were among those who died and who herself fell sick and spent days in the hospital along with her son.