In the remote Kashmiri village of Arai, locals with hunchbacks and deformed bodies are a common sight. People here are fighting their silent battles against a mysterious affliction that leaves victims crippled for life.
The small hamlet ringed by mountains has its own story to tell; an undiagnosed ailment that has left hundreds of locals in a miserable state.
Arai has a history of endless problems-lack of basic infrastructure, paralysed healthcare and erratic power supply among others. It takes at least a five hour trek to reach the village - with no road connecting it to the outside world.
The mysterious ailment with similarity to polio, has robbed the residents of their smiles and unfortunately, good health.
The victims, with tears in their eyes, struggle to move around with crutches. Their brittle joints and shrinking bodies are proof enough of their hapless condition, with no one to hear their cries of help.
Village head, Noordin, said this unnamed disease has been beyond diagnosis for years and urged the government to conduct some serious investigations to find its cause and cure.
"Our village has a population of about 14,000, out of which there are at least 200 people who are inflicted by this mysterious disease. Some of them have deformed hands; others don't even have hands. They say it is not Polio but we are unable to know what is this disease, it has not been diagnosed so far. We request the government to find out what this disease is. We cannot do much about people who have already been affected, but we want the government to pay heed to it and prevent this disease from spreading," Noordin said.
A father, whose young daughter is a victim of this unknown ailment, describes how she slouches and walks. He has gone from pillar to post to get her treated, but the doctors are clueless about the disease.
He said the government should at least provide some financial help to the victims and their families, so that they can carry on with their lives.
"This is the problem that everyone is facing over here. The government must introduce a scheme, like giving a pension, so that we can get the treatment done. These are young children, girls who are affected at such a young age. The matter would have been slightly different if it was a grown up man, with girls its tougher. Who will take care of her when she grows up?" said Mohammad Hafeez, the father of an affected girl.
Doctors and health experts are trying hard to unravel the cause of this mysterious disease. However, their efforts have failed to yield the desired result.
According to doctors, it starts with a joint pain and ends up crippling a patient for life.
The Chief Medical Officer, Poonch District, Vijay Sahni, informed that they would send a group of ten patients for initial investigations to the Jammu Medical College.
"We are taking 10 patients as samples and are sending them to Jammu Medical College for the diagnosis of this mysterious disease. We want to diagnose the disease, so that we can prevent the future generations from getting infected by it," Sahni said.
Arai village comes under one of India's '250 most backward districts', Poonch and is one of three districts in Kashmir that currently receives funds from the centrally sponsored Backward Regions Grant Fund programme.
However, the locals are unable to reap the benefits of such schemes.