Cashew plantations were not part of the flora and fauna of Kerala. They were brought to India by the Portuguese. They brought many wars and diseases to the shores of Kerala. But of all the things brought on by the Portuguese the cashew plantations were never considered harmful, at least not recently. Now the least harmful has become the most evil and violent killer of all. The indiscreet use of a pesticide called Endosulfan in cashew plantations has lead to genetic diseases and death. A large section of the people in the district of Kasaragod is affected by Endosulfan in one way or other.
Last week I went to Kasaragod, the northernmost district of the southernmost state Kerala. I was on a journey to meet a few of the victims of Endosulfan poisoning, so that our organization can give medical aid to a few of them. My initial plan was to meet ten to fifteen families and shortlist five to dispense the medical aid. I knew it was not going to be a pleasant journey. But I am not a naive person going to meet the first Endosulfan victim in his life. I have seen many victims before and where I had my fair share of horrors. But this journey was something more than I ever bargained for.
First I went to a lady who is a teacher in a special school. She is a social worker as well as the mother of an Endosulfan victim. After the initial pleasantries I went inside the house and saw the child. But there I was mistaken, though I thought she was a young child; she was in fact 23 years old. Not more than three feet, weighing may be 30 kilograms, there lies an epileptic child with cerebral palsy and physical deformities; a classical case of Endosulfan poisoning. She is also half paralyzed, dumb, with problems to eye sight and hearing. Yet she was able to identify people. She responded to her mother by laughing (hope I can call it laughter). I suddenly realized what was in store for me for the rest of the day. I simply wanted to run away. But her mother didn't allow me. To prove their case she showed me the treatment details. I am no medical expert, but I can say this much; the child do not even have a single organ doing its function. From there I was taken to the next victim of this brutal pesticide. There I saw another child. She was also a 20 years old, but no more than four feet tall. There was just an old lady to look after the child; her grandmother. The mother has gone for work so that she can feed the child twice a day. I asked about the father and understood the gentleman has abandoned the family long back. Well, who can criticize him? Looking after these children is a very difficult task and he took the easy path. Well poor mothers, they are the victims of double betrayal, betrayal by the state and their loved ones. But they were all willing to go to any extent to protect their children.
From there I was taken to the third victim, another child. This time for a change a real child; she was just three years old. I love children and usually a three year old will make you happy with their laughter and pranks. Not this one, she was in absolute agony with pus coming out of both her ears. She was biting her grandmother and aunties while her mother explained her plight to me. Yet another house abandoned by its master when the child was born. I felt ashamed to call myself a man when my lots were running away in such a cowardly manner. From there I was taken to the next victim like a Christ bearing his cross. The next victim was a boy of 7 years. He too was similar to the other three victims, epileptic, half paralyzed and having cerebral palsy. They didn’t even have a bed for the child. He was lying on a plastic sheet. The child talked to me in a language only he and God can understand. Definitely he was not asking for help, he was too proud for it. I believe he was accusing me of inaction, inaction in the first degree. I felt lucky I don’t believe in Gods, because I don’t want to stand in front of such a powerful being and answer for my inaction.
The icing to the cake was made when I went to the next victim. I was accompanied by a blind social worker and two others to the next victim. The blind social worker herself was a victim of Endosulfan but she is one of the most courageous, optimistic and happy persons I have ever met personally. She was being hopeful about the whole issue. But then I remember she was blind. She doesn't have to see what is happening around her. We reached the house of the next victim. I won’t call it a house. At least not in the normal sense, may be as a euphemism. The house was locked from outside. An old man; a neighbor told us that the mother of the child went for work and the usual practice is to lock the child from outside. I didn't ask about the father of the child because I already knew the answer. Then the other lady who came with me had a look through the window. She was looking shocked, and my brain told me not to look. But my heart overruled my brain like many other times and made me have a look into the room. There I saw one of the saddest human beings I ever saw personally. I have seen young children with AIDS; people with terminal illness, mentally retarded children and many more. But this was too low even for my standards. There I saw a child (She was 26 years old, somebody told me later, but looked like a child), she was half paralyzed and mentally retarded. She was lying on the floor soaked in her bodily wastes and wearing torn clothes. An aluminum plate was kept near her (my dog eats from a better plate and definitely better food) and she was trying to drink from the plate by licking. Well, I had enough, social work or no social work I don’t want to see anything like this. I told the others who came with me that I had enough and I will inform them about the project later.
Now I am back in my room in front of my computer and thought I will write down my experience so that I can post it in my blog which has a monthly readership of 5 (Including myself, I always read what I write). May be by some accident if there is a God and if he asks me what I did. At least I can show him this post.