Talking about dire poverty in the country and living in dire poverty are two completely different things. An example of this came to light when Kerala woke up to reports of a woman whose children were found to be eating mud out of sheer hunger.
Sridevi, who lived with her six kids in a makeshift shanty of 50 sq. ft on railway land, around 3 km from the State Secretariat at Kaithamukku in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, made a distress call to the toll-free helpline of Kerala State Council for Child Welfare (KSCCW) on December 1 after she couldn’t bear the plight of her children anymore.
Reports by The Times of India say that the incident came to light when the headmistress of the government school where the eldest child is enrolled, asked him about his living conditions.
The headmistress states that the boy, aged seven, told her that their alcoholic father would physically abuse all of them, beat them and smash their heads against the wall. He spared the two youngest children who are still being breastfed. He also allegedly would throw mud into their food or leave them and their mother starving, the neighbours told TOI. However, Sridevi hasn’t spoken a word about this.
The school then promptly alerted Childline that works for the welfare of children across the country.
The KSCCW general secretary S P Deepak who visited the family found their situation shocking. He said, “The kids only had water for the past two days. One boy was seen eating mud out of hunger.”
The KSCCW then asked Sridevi if she was willing to hand over the children to them for better care and she agreed. Now, the four kids – two boys aged seven years and five years and two girls aged four and two, will be under the care of the government. The other two kids who are still being breastfed, will be provided for by the government as well.
Thiruvananthapuram Mayor K Sreekumar has offered Sridevi a temporary cleaning job at the Corporation office and a house being constructed under the Corporation’s housing scheme Life Mission, will also be provided to her and her kids. She also didn’t have a ration card, which was just provided to her by the state in a haste. In the interim, she has been shifted to the MahilaMandiram at Poojappura with her kids. Sridevi will now earn a daily wage of Rs. 650, Manorama Online reported.
Health Minister KK Shailaja told the media that all the four kids, whose medical examination will be conducted at the SAT Hospital soon, will be under the protection of the government. Many voluntary organizations have also come out in support of the family.
Poverty in Kerala
According to the World Bank Report of 2017, Kerala has experienced a steady decline in poverty since 1994. According to the report, after 2005, Kerala grew and reduced poverty faster than many states, but while it is home to a smaller share of the poor in the country, there are pockets within the state that have recorded a higher incidence of poverty.
According to the State Planning Board, in Kerala, factors such as land reforms, public distribution systems schemes, Kudumbashree and Planning schemes have effectively brought down poverty ratios. In 2011-12, Kerala’s poverty stood at 7.1%, second only to Goa at 5.1%.
Yet, Kerala, in the recent years has always been battered by floods and other natural calamities that has resulted in loss of lives and livelihoods. Tracking the current rate of poverty in India is difficult because there are no statistics available after 2012.
However, going by the numbers we have, it looks like Sridevi was one of the unfortunate ones bereft of the social benefits provided by the state.
Domestic Violence and violence against children in Kerala
According to a report by the National Commission of Women (NCW) 2005, almost 80% of the victims of domestic violence were in the age group of 20-40 years and only 68% of women in the 14 districts sampled had secondary / higher secondary education.
67.1% respondents did not have life savings and in 57.9% households, the family affairs were controlled by the husband. 75.4% of the husbands in the households were alcoholics and almost half, 48.7% respondents stated the ‘alcoholic nature’ of the husband as the first cause of domestic violence.
Literate Kerala has also seen an upsurge in crimes against children with the number going up from 549 in 2008 to 4,008 in 2018. (The New Indian Express). Most of these crimes have gone unreported because they have been committed by people known to the children. Though the Kerala government also put up neighbourhood vigilance schemes in 2013, they do not seem to have worked.
It is ironical that Kerala, a state that takes pride in its progress, cannot protect its children. This battle that Sridevi is fighting is not just against poverty. It is a multi-layered issue involving destitution, social benefits, violence and the security of children. She was rescued from her situation because she finally wrestled her way out of it for her children by contacting the government. But there are many others who do not have the knowledge or the means to get them out of such situations. Then, will the government of Kerala, for that matter the government of India take stock of the matter and bring the neglected into their fold before matters get worse?