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Pakistan’s Rat Children

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Download If you visit Shah Daula shrine in the central Punjab province of Pakistan you will be asked for money by beggars with tiny heads.

They are often called the Chooha or Rat people.

They suffer from microcephalics a genetic disorder that leaves people with small skulls and protruding noses and ears.

And as Yasir Khan reports their value as beggars is enormous.

Outside a Muslim shrine 30 year old Nadia sits on a filthy mattress asking for money from worshippers.

She screams at her guardian Ijaz Hussain Shah, she as trouble speaking and her head is two times smaller than a normal head.

Ijaz claims he found her at the shrine when she was five years old.

“She was dumped at the gates of the shrine. I decided to take her home. Since I have taken care of her, she is like family. People come her to pray and seek fulfilment of their desires, they are always respectful to her.”

Ijaz takes all of Nadia’s earnings.

At the nearby bus station Juned Jeda is begging carrying a ‘Rat child’.

When I approached him for an interview he shouted and pushed me away.

"Get lost! I don't want to talk to you,"

After I insisted he agreed to talk.

He explains that according to a four hundred year old Sufi belief barren women who pray at Shah Daula's shrine will be granted children, but at a very high price.

“When a barren couple comes to the shrine for worship, we ask them to donate their first born, who will be disabled, to the shrine. Those who have faith in this belief donate their first child and then they will get normal children after that. And those who don’t do it will have Rat children forever.”

31-year old Sameena Bibi is having trouble getting pregnant.

She regularly comes to worship at the shrine.

“We respect Shah Daula Saint because our elders always talked about his importance and spirituality. They also told us that any infertile woman will become fertile after worshipping at this shrine. That’s why I visit the shrine every two months because I have not been able to have children and I got married eight years ago. I always pray for children.”

But Syed Nasir Mehmood Gilani who is a local spiritual leader disagrees with all such claims.

“For a long time I am seeing newly married couples from across the country coming to this shrine for worship and none have had a child with such disability. These theories were developed by illiterate people. The claim that anybody who will pray at this shrine for the granting of children will get a first child who is microcephalic is totally erroneous.”

As microcephalic children are believed to be closer to God, people  give the children money.

But writer and historian Ghaffar Shehzad believes that cruel beggar gangs clamp the children's heads in infancy.

They kidnap and then deform healthy infants by placing pots or metal clamps on the heads, he says.

Ijaz at the shrine strongly denies the claim.

“These children are the creation of The Allah Almighty. These people speak lies. These educated people who say we (shrine) used to put iron caps on the heads of these kids is a total lie. There is nothing like this. This is the will of God.”

Amaanat Ali is a father of three microcephalic children. He lives in a village near the shrine.

He says he never worshiped at that shrine and does not believe the myth.

“Devotees come to my house for prayers and seek fulfillment of their desires because they think my disabled children are Holy people. I had my first child after three years of marriage. He was born with small head and my other two sons are the same. People in my village think that I prayed at Shah Dholay shrine but I never did. Though I respect every sacred person I don’t believe in this theory.”

He also criticizes people who call his children ‘Rats’.

“I want to tell people that body features of every person is created by God. Human beings are the crows of creation. Those who call these children as Chooa or Rat are actually making fun of God’s creation. They should be ashamed of this.”

The shrine officially stopped accepting microcephalics in the 1960s when the government took over the site.

But the town's beggar masters are trying to keep the superstition alive.



01) shrine: tempat suci, tempat pemujaan 

02) protruding: menonjol

03) enormous: sangat besar 

04) infertile: mandul

05) illiterate: buta huruf

06) microcephaly: kelainan genetik yang menyebabkan tengkorak  kepala seseorang  kecil dan hidung serta telinga

07) erroneous: keliru, salah

08) clamp: menjepit

09) superstition: takhyul

10) sacred: sakral, suci


1) What is microcephaly and what is another term for people who have it?

2) Where can you find people who have it in Pakistan and how do they make a living?

3) According to a Suffi belief what will happen to barren women  if they pray at the Shah Daula Shrine?

4) Who disagrees with this claim and what are their arguments?

5) What did one father who does not worhsip at the shrine say  about his children who have microcephaly?

Last Updated ( Monday, 11 April 2011 17:45 )  
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