Friday, August 29, 2008

What can be our responses to the Underprivileged?

A few weeks before I, as a member of the District Vigilance committee, was invited to a District level meeting on appraisal of all on-going/completed development works for the year which was chaired by the MP and MLA of the constituencies and attended by the entire District bureaucracy. Fortunately, that was also the day when I had the opportunity to be part of solving a couple of public grievance issues outside the vicinity of Thenur. Through finding a solution to these issues, it has shaken my very existence as a social being.

Mallika - lady in her 30s, with twin girls - 2 years old, has been despised by her husband and in-laws on one side and her own siblings on the other. At the time when she represented to the Minister and the District Collector Anil Meshram, she and the kids were living in the streets - “a destitute”. She had already represented before the Police and Judiciary and found no solace. She was a very depressed lady which showed on her physical and mental health. I took Anil’s cue and volunteered to have her at Thenur village if Mallika can work at our learning center with the understanding that she needs some time for recuperation. Anil did also arrange some money for her as well initiated immediate law enforcement actions on her case. It is a different issue that the case is a very complex one, as can be inferred later.

Understanding the harshness of staying in the Payir farm considering that we have bare minimum facilities, we housed Mallika and the kids in a small portion of Periappa’s home - for the time being. It is very difficult to provide or create an accommodation in a village for an outsider and that too a single lady due to the various dynamics of caste system. Almost all of the ladies who work in Payir Ashram have gone through a traumatic family life and so could immediately empathize with Mallika! So, in the Ashram, Mallika with such adorable kids was a welcome new comer. It was all good till when Mallika wanted to have separate utensils for her food. She was unable to forget her past upbringing in a well-off caste and could not digest taking food prepared by a lower caste and served in the same utensils as the other caste use. In the Ashram, we have a community kitchen where every body are treated same. And slowly, we came to know Mallika had a strong sense for her caste. At the Ashram, while every body empathized, they also started revolting against this behaviour and showed it to Mallika. (For me, one side I was very happy that within the Ashram we have literally broken the shackles of caste). While doing so, including myself, we forgot the unstable psychosomatic condition of Mallika. She brought out more of her past conditioning which was at logger-heads with what Payir wants to make a change in the society. So, it came to a point when I had to accept to Anil that Mallika is no longer accepted by Thenur community. But it was our onus to find an alternative where Mallika and the kids can live a much more peaceful life. All efforts to make her siblings take care of her for a short time or to patch up with her husband went in vain. (It is a complex case and would need me to explain quite a bit of history of Mallika and her family). Mallika could not also cope up at an institute for Destitute. Very unfortunately, she and the kids had to be taken care for a couple of days at the Police Station. After a point, we had to forcibly put her into the Destitute home and treat her as a person with severe mental illness. For a few days, I had no peace of mind over these decisions we had to make.

What Mallika needed was just a home on her own where she can just live caring for her children on her own terms - away from the harsh looks of the society. As a society, we could not provide that and also create the support structures. Mallika may have brought with her, her own failings - but who deos not?! Mallika was judged at every turn which we had no moral rights to! We created timeframes for understanding a human mind of which we have the least capacity. Mallika’s attitude to caste was not her problem alone, it is a shocking revelation on how much our society has conditioned a human mind to differentiate and judge one human with another!
(to be continued with the experiences of Keerthana)