They’re called the “rat people” of Pakistan, but they are really suffering from a genetic mutation called microcephaly – a neurodevelopmental disorder in which the circumference of the head is more than two standard deviations smaller than average.
Popularly known as “RATS OF SHAH DAULA” these children are an unfortunate product of superstition. According to centuries old belief, if a woman was barren and she prayed at the shrine of Shah Daula located in the city of Gujarat, she would became fertile. But unless she offers her first born child in service of the saint , all subsequent children would be born with a head similar to that of a mouse . These days, most chuas are intinerant beggars. Travelling up and down the Grand Trunk Road, following a seasonal calender of religious festivals. Each chua is owned, or perhaps leased, by a minder, often a raffish, gypsy-like figure. The Chua-master looks after, and profits from, his chua rather as a peasant might a donkey; together, they may earn as much as 400 rupees per day, about £4. Curse . The “rat people of Pakistan” are credited with god-like powers. Their begging proves extremely lucrative for the gangs – so much so that some people allege that normal babies are being deliberately deformed to look like them. The popular belief is that the beggar gangs clamp the children’s heads in infancy, which is strongly denied by government and advocacy groups, who say there is no evidence. According to an estimate there are about 10,000 ‘rat children’ in our country. Dismissing the Curse of Shua Dulah as mere superstition, they have a better theory: that chuas aren’t born, but made. Priests, chua-masters, or perhaps even parents, they say, purposefully deform healthy infants by placing pots or metal clamps on the heads of healthy infants and so retard the growth of the brain.
Pakistan’s government says it has tried to crack down on exploitation of the “chuhas” (Urdu for rats) and says it plans to set up a shelter in Gujrat to rehabilitate them. The shrine stopped officially accepting microcephalics in the 1960s when the government took over the site.