Thalaikoothal: The ‘Custom’ Of Murdering One’s Parents in Tamil Nadu
I believe- if some of the best emotions are poured into an article you write, or a work you do- when you’re fervid with anger or some feeling strong enough to melt your heart… you’d also move the human race and perhaps make it more human. I’d add that it is when the heart is rendered helpless and unsupported by our loved ones… the realities show their ugly face and tell us just how inhuman humanity or a part of it-could be. Something that happens in the districts of Tamil Nadu in India could unravel all the composure we maintain as sons and lovers of Mother Nature. The practice of thalaikoothal raged my heartbeats. I’m appalled even by the mere cacophonous sound of this very word-thalaikoothal especially after I knew what it stood for.
Shahina KK of Tehelka perfectly puts it, “Several glasses of coconut water. A mouthful of mud. Perhaps a poison injection. She is just one of many old parents in Tamil Nadu dying in this way. But no one blinks at these ritual murders.” Shahina is talking about Mariamma who could be killed because her family cannot afford to have her anymore. Yes, if you could add a mind over this matter-Mariamma is an old woman in Tamil Nadu. And she is not angry. She has accepted this as a matter of fate and circumstances. There are many more such parents who’re starved for days and then made to gulp down milk. So much milk, and in a ‘close the nose’ fashion that the milk being poured in the throat reaches the respiratory track and ultimately kills the person as “A starving person cannot withstand even a moment’s suffocation,” says 60-year-old Paul Raj, co-ordinator of a district elders’ welfare association in Shahina’s report.
This brings us to a level perhaps the greatest of leaders may not have expected as visionaries of a country that teaches children to believe that “Parents are Supreme Gods”. India has faced riots, famines, floods and draughts. So many unnamed mortals died a silent death under the plethora of money-less existence. Truly, the rich is becoming richer. And the poor is unfortunately, being murdered-by the sweat of reality and the dust and grime left of the ash of their dreams-broken, killed and burnt.
A reader, Bhaskarjyoti Mali rightly says, “I was reading an article about how a family was inviting the whole Bollywood for a wedding, spending several crores and then this! Such a contrast!” Another reader Jaimin Desai adds, “Hunger, poverty kills thousands daily. But nobody gives it a second thought. ‘India shining’ is true only for those who’ve got a few shillings.”.
Thalaikoothal is an accepted practice in all the poverty-stricken districts of Tamil Nadu. So should we simply build a well in every district of every town-so that anyone who thinks he has an ‘expensive’ family member can have them go and jump in? Wouldn’t that also reduce all the head-ache of buying so much oil, milk and injections? Should the children who murder their parents be allowed to have children of their own? There are questions most authorities fail to ask. Local doctors, village heads and district magistrates are witnesses to the ritual murders and collective abandoning from the distinction between crime, custom and reality.
Are we so poor that we unmask the devil of helpless poverty to kill our parents by our own hands? Helpless poverty. That’s a term we’ve heard a million times-mostly over-used. Has poverty depressed our humanity to a blithe? Can we improve the situation? Can we change what we see? Is the urban India even aware that people are not just dying out of poverty but they’re killing too? Or are we too late already?