Kolkata -- A two-and-a-half year old Jehovah's Witness girl is still alive in a tea estate in remote Darjeeling region 400km north of Kolkata, thanks to timely police intervention.
Citing the religious beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian group with an estimated six million followers worldwide, Sanjay Lakra, father of the little girl battling acute renal failure, anaemia and bacillary dystentry, refused to give his consent for blood transfusion when it became necessary during life-saving treatment by doctors.
The religious cult strictly disallows blood transfusions even in potentially life-threatening situations. When doctors at Siliguri's North Bengal Medical College Hospital battling to save Manorama's life failed to convince Lakra to sign a blood transfusion bond, they informed the police and the media.
But Lakra, a tea estate labourer, fled the hospital with the dying girl last week. Under media pressure, Rajeev Mishra, Darjeeling Police Superintendent, ordered the police to comb the area and somehow nab them. When Lakra and Manorama were finally tracked down, Mishra ordered the doctors to give the dying girl blood transfusion in her best interests ignoring her father's objections on religious grounds.
Happily, Manorama is on the road to recovery. But Lakra and his wife, Sarita, say they would have been happier if she had died without being administered blood which they claim is forbidden in the Bible. Dozens of Jehovah's Witness preachers have descended on the tea-growing belt to fight Lakra's religious battle.
But human rights activists, doctors and journalists are fully backing the timely police action to save Manorama's life. The unorthodox Christian sect, headquartered in New York, has six million members in 200 countries. They follow the Bible but their beliefs differ from mainstream Christian groups the world over. One of their most controversial religious principles is the policy of refusing blood transfusions which has sometimes brought the Jehovah's Witnesses into direct confrontation with medical and government authorities as in West Bengal.
Despite still banning transfusions of even a person's own blood which has been earlier removed and stored, they do allow blood which is lost during an operation to be collected, cleaned and returned to the body in a process called blood salvaging.
But this is of no consolation to those who have watched loved ones die because they refused standard blood transfusion.
Moreover, Jehovah's Witnesses do not swear allegiance to any organisation or nation.
Because of this they are not allowed to join any armed forces, nor can they participate by voting in any election, run for any political office, sing a national anthem or participate in any activity associated with proclaiming allegiance to any earthly government.
This has caused problems for Jehovah's Witnesses in countries where there is compulsory military service or the swearing of allegiance to the national flag.