NAGAPATTINAM: ‘Women and children first’ is an unwritten law of the sea. Saving them, that is. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami turned the dictum on its head by landing the biggest blow on women and children. For, women constituted 40 per cent of the tsunami causality in this district, while the corresponding figure for children was 29 per cent.
Also, there were many cases of women who managed to survive but lost all their children to the killer tsunami and couldn’t procreate again as they had already undergone birth control procedures. Though they tried recanalisation so as to be able to have babies again, its success ratio wasn’t high enough, so many chose to adopt children instead.
Take Lakshmi, now 40, who lives in a housing complex provided by an NGO at Keechankuppam fishing hamlet. She was doing domestic chores in her thatched hut located just 50 metres away from the sea on December 26, 2004 while her husband Selvamani was performing maintenance work on a fishing boat, and their four children Sumithra (10), Madhan (7), Yogeshwari (4), and Sugan (2) were building castles by the beach, when disaster struck. In a flash, a 10-metre high wave swallowed all four children along with many others and dragged Selvamani and Lakshmi several kilometres into the sea. The couple managed to swim back to the shore, but could never ever find their children — not even their bodies, except that of Sugan. The loss of children created a huge vacuum in their lives, more so because Lakshmi had already undergone tubectomy.
Standing before a portrait of her four children, Lakshmi recalls, “The post-tsunami trauma and guilt of not protecting our children made us feel miserable. For two years, we consulted various doctors to explore the possibility of recanalisation for conceiving again. After several tests, doctors told us recanalisation wouldn’t be successful.” Finally they adopted a baby boy and girl by 2006. “We treat them as our children and persuade outsiders not to call them adopted. They are very much part of our lives. I aim to educate them with as much as I can,” says a confident Selvamani. Selvamani and Lakshmi now live with their two children, aged seven and eight, who study in a nearby government school.
While Lakshmi couldn’t have her tubectomy reversed, Priya (name changed), now 36, was among the fortunate ones to have successfully undergone the procedure. She then gave birth to three daughters. According to SNEHA, an NGO involved in the recanalisation programme between 2004 and 2006, as many as 64 women from the fishing hamlets near Nagapattinam underwent recanalisation procedures. Of them, only 11 conceived again; the rest had to be satisfied with adoption.
Speaking to Express, P Vanaja, centre head of SNEHA says, “The State government provided `25,000 as financial assistance for each recanalisation procedure. But for many women, the procedure was unsuccessful. They then adopted baby girls.” Adoption had its share of hassle, as victims were under family pressure to adopt children from their family tree alone. But most of them adopted babies who were not relatives, some of whom were orphaned by the tsunami. Relatives of children who had lost both parents had put up the orphaned children for adoption. A decade later, the families of adopted children have shaken off despondence and are upbeat over the future.