TOXIC TALES M10
Poisoned Earth in
God’s Own Country
Dr Mohan Kumar started his practice in this region in 1982. He real- ized endosulfan was harming the community. "As the days passed, I came to know that neurological problems were high. I would walk six miles to get to my house and there were no industries, but every house had a chronic condition." Kumar claims ten officials came to his office to threaten him for speaking against endosulfan use in the government-owned cashew plantations
Arunkumar, 14 with
his mother. Arunkumar
is able to feed himself,
but with difficulty. His
sister needs to be
spoonfed. Both he and
his sister live off a rice
Their 16-year-old daughter Soumya and 14-year-old son
Arunkumar, would frequently experience fevers that even-
tually left them mute and crippled. As the children are par-
tially blind and deaf, they rely on smell to identify people
and make simple gestures to have their needs met.
Soumya drags herself across the home’s concrete floor as
she is unable to walk. Rarely leaving their home and with
no social services or physiotherapy, they receive little stim-
ulation to improve their condition.
Sujatha was struck down with a recurring fever at the age
of four which left her hospitalised on several occasions.
At 28 years of age, her body has not developed properly
and she has limited mobility in her limbs. Unable to sup-
port herself on her weak, child-size legs, she lives her life
bound to her home.
Frustrated by her speech impairment, she speaks of her
on-going struggle with depression. Sujatha has no oppor-
tunity to marry and live a normal life, as she is completely
dependent on her mother. Her mother explains that her
energy levels prevent her from staying awake extended
periods of time and that an exhausting menstrual cycle
(three times per month) causes her low blood pressure.
A year ago, a local youth group arranged monthly visits of
a physiotherapist who is also an ayurvedic doctor, but her
improvement has been minimal and she is still experienc-
ing ongoing pain in her legs.
Her other son, a rickshaw driver, is the principle provider,
while her four adult daughters make bidis to supplement
the family’s stretched household income.
Aisha clasps her head with her hands as she describes the
financial strain resulting from Shafi’s disability; “soiled
mats need to be replaced regularly, and detergents for
washing his clothes are expensive. Bathing him requires
the assistance of two people.”
Aisha is relieved at the prospect of receiving an addition-
al Rs 2,000 (approximately $40) monthly allowance for
Shafi. She says, “Our family has experienced many days
when there was a shortage of food.”
In an attempt to calm growing pressure, a Rs 5 crore
(approximately $1.02 million) compensation package has
been offered by the plantation corporation to be distributed
A comprehensive package is being launched by the
Kerala state health department to be available in the 11
worst affected panchayats.
Benefit cards are being registered under three categories;
Class A, the worst affected victims, expecting to receive Rs
2,000 (approximately $40) monthly pensions; an amount
barely enough to cover medical expenses, let alone supple-
ment the potential income loss of carers.
“My greatest difficulty is not being able to leave my
daughter unattended,” says Sreeja, a mother of two young
Her six-year-old daughter Chaithany suffers from a
severe neurological disorder and is unable to control her
limbs or communicate. Sreeja is a fulltime carer, bound to
her single roomed home, while her husband keeps the fam-
ily afloat with menial labour; earning only Rs 250 (approx-
imately $5) per day.
On December 18, 2010, chairman K G Balakrishnan of
the National Human Rights Commission compared the
endosulfan devastation on par with the Bhopal gas tragedy.
Kasaragod district is the worst known case of endosulfan
poisoning on a mass scale. Activists like B Ashraf who is
associated with the NGO Thanal, is the secretary of the
Punchiri Club (a local activist group) and health inspector
for the Muliyar panchayat are referring to the atrocity as a
“government chemical warfare on its own people”.
While the question of evidence remains — blocking an
immediate, permanent national ban — Dr Kumar puts
conflicting scientific evidence into perspective: “You can
argue anything because you cannot test on humans. You
have to consider the circumstantial evidence.”
In the meantime, parents of victims like Carmina Costa,
who has been promised a consolatory yet miniscule com-
pensation, fear for future generations’ lives.
“My prayer is that this should never happen again. So
many children, so many mothers are suffering. This is my
prayer to the government.” ;