Birth Tragedy Seen as Divine

In the industrial world, we know that birth defects are caused by some combination of genetic and environmental factors. The Associated Press reported that a baby born in Saini Sunpura, India, “Lali, apparently has an extremely rare condition known as craniofacial duplication, where a single head has two faces.”

If the infant had been born in the U.S., she and the family would have received sympathy, understanding, and assistance. In India, the infant “is being worshipped as the reincarnation of a Hindu goddess, her father said today.”

Lali has caused a sensation in the dusty village of Saini Sunpura, 25 miles east of New Delhi. When she left the hospital, eight hours after a normal delivery on March 11, she was swarmed by villagers, said Sabir Ali, the director of Saifi Hospital. …

Rural India is deeply superstitious and the little girl is being hailed as a return of the Hindu goddess of valor, Durga, a fiery deity traditionally depicted with three eyes and many arms.

In a way I can understand the mythology; the tragedy is given a positive angle, and the family and infant are saved from social shunning. I can imagine other societies in which the birth might have been seen as the work of the Devil. But far better to live in a world of science and advanced medicine, in which birth defects are minimized and in some cases correctable.

The Hindu myth is not entirely without a political slant; the AP adds: “‘I am writing to the state government to provide money to build the temple and help the parents look after their daughter,’ [Village chief Daulat] Ram said.”