An Indian teen from the state of Punjab is praised and worshipped by locals for his medical condition, which has made him a divine symbol of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. Arshid Ali Khan, 13, is wheelchair-ridden and suffering from an undiagnosed disorder that has left him with a seven-inch tail on his lower back. Arshid, also known as Balaji by locals, is now considering surgery to remove the tail to help him walk, a decision that leaves the family skeptical about his health.
“It is for Balaji to decide. If he wants to get the tail removed, we do not mind,” his grandfather, Iqbal Qureshi, a music instructor, told Barcroft TV. “He has trouble walking and so we are asking doctors what can be done.” Doctors in India are only beginning to understand the conditions the young boy has, as he hasn't been formally diagnosed.
They believe his condition developed from a combination of brittle bones and partial paralysis from spina bifida, specifically meningocele. Spina bifida can happen anywhere along a baby’s back between the head and the hips, although it most often occurs in the lower back, called the lumbar spine. It develops when membranes poke through a hole between the vertebrae in the back, according to the Spina Bifida Association.
Children with this condition may have health problems, such as the inability to move their legs; decreased movement of their legs; or loss of feeling in their legs, which is the symptom Arshid experiences. Spina bifida patients may also experience problems with bladder and bowel function. It is believed that the condition develops early in pregnancy, as eight babies born in the U.S. are affected by this condition or a related birth defect of the brain and spine.
Arshid currently lives with his grandfather and two uncles, and moved in with them after his father died when he was 4 — his mother remarried. The family’s home has turned into a temple, where the boy’s followers visit him to receive his blessing. They even touch his tail, the Daily Mail reported. “A lot of people’s wishes have come true after they have visited,” Qureshi said. “Sometimes there are childless couples who come to Balaji for help. He blesses them, and often, they are then able to conceive.”
Arshid does not have an ordinary teenage life. He struggles to balance time between his followers, attending school, and playing with his friends. “Mostly on weekdays I have to go to school, but when I have a school holiday, on Sunday, around 20 to 30 people come to see me at my home.”
The alleged Hanuman reincarnation is among several children who have been born with the condition. In March, a 5-month-old Chinese boy began to grow his tail after he was born. Doctors say the growth started within the first month of the child’s development in the womb, but the exact cause of the condition is unknown. Doctors speculate that it's from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Severing the growth that is connected to the infant’s nervous system may cause permanent damage.
Whether Arshid has his tail removed or not, the family does not mind, and neither does the boy. He feels neither “good nor bad” about having a tail. If he goes through with the surgery, the young boy isn’t worried about losing his followers, as Arshid confidently said, “Doctors can remove my tail — but people will continue to believe in me.”