Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What can be our responses to the Underprivileged?

Keerthana - a 13 year old girl is affected with the HIV Aids Virus. She has lost both her parents and is now living with her ageing grand parents. The grand parents are land less farm labourers earning a meager income. In the caste system, they are classified as Dalits - considered as one of those lowly castes. For more than a year now, they have been running from pillar to post with the District Administration to receive Rs. 12,500 - one of the State insurance schemes for a death in an agricultural family (for Keerthana’s parents). The day I met Keerthana and her grand mother was one such day. I must say two aspects caught my attention - one was Keerthana’s plight and other was the maturity and hope with which that skinny child presented herself before the District Revenue Officer, Mr. Shankar - an efficient and passionate officer. Having been in close quarters with Mr. Shankar on that particularly stressful day for him, I could sense Keerthana case - a repetitive grievance - would be lost even for all the good intentions of Mr. Shankar. After getting the contact details and the case particulars, I raised her issue with Mr. Shankar after a few days. On enquiry, we came to know that the Grand Mother’s plea can not be redressed as she and her husband does not own a Farmer’s identity card - a sad plight as many landless labourers get left out because they can not get farm work all the time - many a times a misguided interpretation by the Revenue Officers. Probing further with the Revenue department on what other basis this family can be compensated, there was another scheme that provides for Rs. 10,000 for the death of the bread winner. Knowing the right officers, we placed a new petition attaching to the original as or else, the grand mother’s petition will lose the seniority of application - current clearing periods for insurance/pension scheme is around 15 months!!
A few weeks went by. Keerthana’s grandmother called me to let me know that Keerthana’s health was in a poor condition and was not attending school. Next day, when I saw her, she couldn’t open her mouth..high degree of mouth ulcers and was having intermittent fever. She was also in a depressed state, willing to die than live. Normally, these children have very little body resistance power and in addition she was not co-operating to take drugs and food due to her depression. One of our friends is a Doctor couple, Dr. Raja & Dr. Indrani who have dedicated themselves to serve HIV affected children (www.hutindia.org). They run a home/hospice in Perambalur specifically for HIV affected children. They also work out in Trichy. On that day, Dr. Indrani was at Perambalur. She saw Keerthana and re-iterated that her conditions can only improve if she is regular with her drugs. I suggested that if Keerthana and her Grand mother is interested, which they willingly did, she could stay for a few days with us at Thenur and with my parents at Trichy for a change.
On the same day, as I had to meet the Collector on other matters, I brought up Keerthana’s case too. I also suggested the family be given a welfare loan to buy milk cows from a specific welfare scheme (TAHDCO) for Dalits. Through a few swift orders to his officers, he fixed dates to personally hand over the relief packages. Failure of which he had threatened to put them on suspension! It was Friday and the milk cows were to be delivered on Monday! Coming out of the meeting, the TAHDCO manager, certainly agitated, reeled out the G.O (Government Order) and showing to the Grand Mother on the norms that he has to fulfill before disposing such cases and he had just the weekend! I simply could not understand how he intended to make the Grand Mother understand..she can’t even know what a “G” or a “O” is?! But what threw me off and sent me into fits of rage was the way he enquired the caste of the lady. We all knew this family was from Dalit and this officer whose department is specifically for Dalit welfare would not have been called for in first place if Keerathana’s family is not a Dalit. But he shouted to the lady (again and again) with such commanding voice in front of a big crowd asking for her caste. Words could not easily come out of the poor lady’s mouth and in a cowered position when it came “Cheree”, I could see the pain of being born in a low caste. I do not know how many times before she would have been made to answer such questions and considering the stigma the society attaches for a HIV family, I can easily see why Keerthana would prefer to die!
That evening Keerthana came along with me to Thenur . She took lunch and a few medicines. I had to urgently leave to Trichy and decided to take her with me and left her at parent’s place. My mom tried to make her as comfortable as possible but she kept crying. She had good dinner and I made sure she took all her medicines. Next day too, I had to leave early for work. Till about 11 AM, she was fine. Then, she started crying inconsolably wanting to die and prefer to die at her grand parent’s place! As I had been with the Anil that day too, when my mom rang me so, Anil told to leave her at her Garnd parent’s place itself as it would be a difficult criminal process for me if a minor dies in stranger’s place! I was stunned hearing that but I had to accept that Anil knows better as he was a Senior Police officer before.