Microcephaly is a condition characterized by abnormally small head size in infants. Typically, a baby’s head grows during pregnancy as the brain develops. However, in cases of microcephaly, the baby’s brain fails to develop properly during pregnancy or stops growing after birth, resulting in a smaller head size. Microcephaly can occur as an isolated condition, meaning it may occur without any other major congenital disabilities, or it can be combined with other significant congenital disabilities.
Various factors can contribute to the development of microcephaly, and one prominent cause is consanguineous marriages, particularly prevalent in the Pakistani Administered Jammu Kashmir region. In these marriages, it is customary for girls to marry within the family, which can increase the likelihood of genetic mutations in offspring.
Filmmaker Jawad Ahmed Paras embarked on a journey to uncover the reasons behind microcephaly in a family residing in the small town of Neelum Valley. Within this family, three brothers are affected by microcephaly due to their parents being cousins. Through a documentary, Jawad Ahmed Paras investigates the underlying causes of microcephaly within Kashmiri families.
In the local language, children affected by microcephaly are referred to as “MATTU,” which translates to “abnormal person.” Within the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, microcephalic children seek solace and refuge at the shrine of Shah Daula in Varedia, Gujarat. Unfortunately, while these children are revered as divine beings, they are also subjected to the loss of their human dignity. Disturbingly, reports indicate that infertile individuals from across the country flock to the shrine, hoping for the birth of a normal baby. Additionally, other pilgrims bring their ailing infants to the shrine, praying for their future recovery and improved health conditions. The shrine of Shah Daula is widely regarded as a sacred place associated with fertility for women.