THE CHUHA PEOPLE

Religion

In the town of Gujrat, Pakistan, the shrine of Shah Doula, a 17th century Sufi saint draws dozens of women hoping to have a child. According to a Rapunzelesque legend, if the saint grants them their wish, he will claim their firstborn for himself. These children, abandoned outside the temple by their families develop shrunken heads and deformed features and spend their lives begging there. The locals call them 'Chuhas' after the Urdu word for mice.

Like with most legends, something doesn't quite add up. All the children left at the shrine grow up with the same deformities, in spite of being from different families. Some claim that there is an organised system, where the 'Chuhas' are controlled by a 'Chuha-master', while others say that the temple goes in search for children with deformities. Another theory insists that the rat children are not born, but made - with the help of steel helmets.

The temple feeds and clothes the rat people, but refuses to get them medical attention. When asked why, an elder at the temple was quoted tellin IRIN news: "We cannot mess with nature."

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