Does a worst episode of pesticide poisoning fade away from memory because we have been dealing with it for a long time or are fed up with witnessing the trauma for long? Decades down the lane, Kasaragod started identifying with the word ‘Endosulfan’. The trauma continues. Disfigured human beings and their sleepless mothers still exist in a society which is falling into forgetfulness.
“I took my sick daughter to every medical camp since 2013. The doctors examined her. She has 80 percent disability and is visually impaired. Still, she was not included in the list of endosulfan victims. My husband is bedridden. How can I feed a family of eight,” asks Asiyabi of Karakkad in Kundamkuzhi, with tears in her eyes. Her second daughter, differently-abled Khadeejath Sameera, 27, is her concern as she is not in the list of beneficiaries.
The other family members are Sameera’s elder sister Fathimath Rasiya, an asthma patient, two college-going sisters, a 17-year old brother and Rasiya’s child, besides Asiyabi’s husband Hamza Haji, who met with an accident last year and has since been reduced to bed. “Our single source of income – my husband’s shop – is no more. Now, my husband’s son (From Hamza’s first marriage) gives us money. Sameera gets Rs 1,600 as monthly pension for differently abled. We are living on this amount,” says Asiyabi. Making to the victims’ list would have meant getting a solatium of Rs5 lakh as per an SC order and a monthly pension of Rs 1,200- Rs 2,700 from the state government, plus other benefits for treatment.
Ratheesh Kundamkuzhi, who works among endosulfan victims, says there are patients in the list getting two monthly pensions - endosulfan pension and the one for differently abled. At the same time, many deserving patient do not have a single pension as they are not in the list, he says. “Primarily, Sameera is endosulfan affected and should be included in the list,” says Ratheesh. The BUDS school for endosulfan patients is not functioning now due to Covid. This has come as a big setback for mothers like Asiyabi who would otherwise send her daughter to school and take care of her husband in the meantime. Asiyabi was immensely relieved when she got a roof over her head under LIFE Mission.
Three-and-a-half year old Sinchana of Marpanaduka in Kumbadaje is another differently-abled person waiting to be included in the list. She was not included as the last camp was held in 2017, just before she was born. “She can only consume food in liquid form,” says Sinchana’s paternal aunt Sasikala, who is also an endosulfan victim but included in the list. A chat with stakeholders reveals that there are many undeserved people in the list and scores of deserving people out of it. There is a serious difference of opinions among organisations involved in this field over protest strategy – whether getting solatium and added to the list is enough or demanding action as per National Environmental Tribunal Act 1995 is required.
Those included in the list too have crippling issues. Relatives of endosulfan patients are worried about who would take care of their children after they are gone. Bhavya, 29, of Movvar in Chengala has 80 per cent disability and is in the list. Her mother Sarojini is 51 and is taking care of her daughter for more than a quarter of the century with an eye open, literally, even while sleeping.
“I don’t remember the last time I attended a marriage or a family function. I cannot leave Bhavya even for an hour. She can’t walk or stand. I have to take her to the toilet and bathroom,” says Sarojini. Bhavya’s father Balakrishnan works in the cement brick manufacturing unit nearby. Though her brother Vinod B is also endosulfan affected, he has issues only on his foot and is now doing research in Plantation Science at Central University of Kerala (CUK).
Munseena, 26, of Chembakad in Kundamkuzhi, is yet another differently-abled person excluded from the list. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the certificate issued by the state government says she has 75 per cent disability whereas the Unique Disability Identity Card issued by the Centre puts it as 60 per cent. “I am a daily wage labourer. There is no work nowadays. All of us depend on the differently-abled pension Munseena gets every month.
The food kit provided by the government helped a lot,” says Aboobacker, her father. There is a government scheme, ‘Ashwasa Kiranam’, which provides `600 per month for bystanders taking care of bedridden endosulfan patients. However, many, including Sarojini and Munseena’s mother Rabiya, are not included in it. Covid-19 has come as the biggest threat to the patients as the government’s attention has completely turned to fighting the pandemic. The patients were unable to go to empanelled hospitals fearing Covid.
One kilometre from the house of Munseena, TNIE team met Anshifa, 14, a Class 9 student brimming with confidence. Having disfigured fingers on both hands, she is 40 per cent disabled and included in the victims’ list. Luckily, she has no other issues. “I cannot hold much weight in my hands. Other than that, I am okay,” she smiles, an expression many here have forgotten about what with the agrichemical pesticide and a callous system leaving them crippled.