Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 13:53 UK

Nepalis flock to see 'baby god'

By Olivia Lang in Kathmandu

Baby Risab with his mother Januk Ghimire
Januk Ghimire says all that she wants is for her child to lead a normal life

Thousands of people are flocking to a remote and mountainous village in Nepal to see a malformed baby which many are now worshipping as a God.

Suffering from a rare abnormality, baby Risab has a headless "parasitic twin" attached to his abdomen and was born with four arms and four legs.

His impoverished parents say all they want is for Risab to have a "normal body".

They are worried that some see the baby not as a blessing but a curse - the reason why monsoon rains are late.

'Father of God'

Januk Ghimire, the 32-year-old mother of the baby, has had to become used to visitors because thousands have descended on her village since Risab was born in January.

Many believe the baby is a reincarnation of the Hindu God Ganesh

To many locals, he is seen as a miracle and revered as the reincarnation of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant God, whose common forms have several arms.

"About 5,000 have come altogether. Some from faraway districts, by bus or walking," said Prem KC, a local teacher.

As news spread, as many as 100 visitors come every day to see the baby.

"Some people, when they see me, they say I'm the father of God," says the baby's father, Rikhi Ghimire, a thin-faced figure with muddy legs from working in the fields.

"They come to worship him and give him money. They just give a few rupees, make an offering. Sometimes they give clothes or food".

The family of five live in a one-roomed house, a day's walk from the nearest main town, which they share with goats and chickens.

Two single beds lie against the walls, while corns hang from the ceiling above a small stove in the corner.

Outside the house, Ms Ghimire shoos away her two other young sons as they run around playfully, accidentally knocking the baby's basket.

Six months ago, she had no idea her third son would turn out to be so extraordinary.

'Killed me'

She describes how she was in severe pain for five days before Risab's delivery, believing "that this time, I would die". Risab was born on the porch, where Januk had only her mother by her side as she cried out in pain.

Januk Ghimire and baby Risab
The family say adoption is not an option

"During pregnancy I saw a very abnormal stomach and I was very afraid - not of my family, or of my husband - but of neighbours and how they would talk," she said.

"If my husband had not been there, they could have said I had given birth to a witch and come and killed me.

"Most of the neighbours came and said it was a God so they told me not to treat it badly and accept it."

But Ms Ghimire says most of the villagers are superstitious and - like her - believe in witches.

Indeed, her fears are not surprising, with one local Hindu priest openly saying that he believes the baby is a curse on the village and the reason for the late monsoons.

"Farmers cannot do agriculture because of that baby," says Sher Bahadur Bodathorki. "It is a curse from God because of a past life".

In rural Nepal, the rains are crucial to agriculture and villagers' livelihoods.

We do not have money so we worry we cannot give him what he needs
Januk Ghimire

Teacher Prem KC says the reason that the baby has drawn so much attention is because there is little awareness of such medical conditions in rural Nepal and "villagers cannot understand it".

Risab suffers from a rare condition which occurs only one in 50,000 to one in 200,000 births.

His father sought medical treatment in Kathmandu but doctors said they would have to monitor Risab for six months.

As Mr Ghimire could not afford to be out of work and living in Kathmandu for that period, he had to return home with the child.

Hard life

"When I first saw him I was worried about whether he would survive and that if I was not in this world who would take care of him," he said.

His one wish is for his youngest son to have surgery so he can have a "normal body", but says he cannot imagine ever being able to earn enough to afford the operation, which could cost more than $50,000.

"It needs a huge amount of money which I cannot provide. I don't earn much income, just work in field and sometimes I can expect something and sometimes not".

Ms Ghimire says she gives Risab to her mother while she toils in the fields during the day, but says the baby is not easy to care for.

"It is difficult to bathe him, to oil him, to put him to sleep. We do not have money so we worry we cannot give him what he needs," she said.

"Some people say it is because I was sinful [that we had this child] but we didn't do any wrong thing so it should not be a curse," says Januk. "I used to be ashamed, but now I am not."

While life is hard, she says, she would never consider putting baby Risab up for adoption.

"We would never give him away. If someone wanted to adopt, they would have to adopt us - mother and father - along with him."

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