Indian Army’s Mission Smile

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 Sujit Chakraborty writes Indian Army’s  Border Security Force (BSF) brings smiles to children with cleft lips 

Tasked with “Duty unto death”, the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF), which guards the frontiers in rain and shine, day and night, is now bringing smiles to the faces of children with cleft lips and palates by organising free surgeries that would normally cost Rs.50,000 – with 252 beneficiaries so far. The BSF has teamed up with a US-based medical NGO and other international bodies for project “Darpan”, which will soon be replicated in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Children with cleft lips and palates, a birth defect that can derail one’s life due to social stigmas, “are being treated in the medical camps being organised along India’s international borders where our troopers have been posted,” BSF Special Director General (Eastern Command) Bansi Dhar Sharma said.

Indian Army troops on parade in New Delhi
Indian Army troops on parade in New Delhi

“The mission to treat children with cleft lips and palates was launched by BSF Director General Subhash Joshi in January last year in Kolkata. Since then many medical camps are being organised along the borders.”
Sharma said that so far cleft lips and palates of 252 children and aged persons were rectified through surgeries in several medical camps organised in West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya.
“There are also children and people with cleft lips and palates on the other side of the border. We have proposed to conduct similar medical camps in the bordering areas of Bangladesh,” Sharma said, adding that Border Guard Bangladesh Director General Maj. Gen. Aziz Ahmed “cheerfully accepted the proposal”.
“To improve relations between the people of the two countries, such a gesture would help in a big way,” he said.
The fifth medical camp to conduct surgeries on 13 children was inaugurated Friday by former Tripura minister and Lok Sabha member Jitendra Chowdhury at BSF’s Tripura frontier headquarters at Shalbagan, 12 km north of here. Three doctors, led by Kamlesh Kothari from Kolkata, will perform the surgeries.
Lauding the BSF for organising the camps, Chowdhury said: “If the BSF organises (such) medical camps in Bangladesh, this would be India’s best gesture towards its closest neighbour.”
Project “Darpan” is being organised in association with Bhagwan Mahavir Cleft Foundation, Rotary Club of Calcutta and the BSF Wives Welfare Association. The funds are being provided by Smile Train international NGO. Headquartered in New York, the NGO was founded in 2000 by Brian Mullaney and Charles B. Wang. It has performed more than 300,000 cleft surgeries in 80 countries.
“Prior to the medical camp, BSF teams reached the remotest corners of Tripura’s border with Bangladesh to identify cases and brought them to Agartala for screening and to decide whether surgery would be done or not,” BSF deputy inspector general B.S. Rawat said.

“Once the BSF, on the advice of the doctors, identified the patients, they were shifted to surgical points,” Rawat added.
According to cleft lip and palate expert Ranjan Musaddi, eastern India has over 100,000 people with the birth defect. “Every year, 7,000 to 8,000 people with cleft lip and palate problems are added to the population.”
According to experts, about 30,000 children in India are born with cleft lips and palates every year and less than 50 percent of them are treated.