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Steeped in poverty, they fell easy prey to organ brokers

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THE HARD OPTION: Bhuvaneswari, who sold her kidney for a meagre amount, is seen with her son near her residence at Kasimedu. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan
THE HARD OPTION: Bhuvaneswari, who sold her kidney for a meagre amount, is seen with her son near her residence at Kasimedu. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

Ramya Kannan

  • "Kidney trade just a symptom, core issue is poverty"
  • Many donors complain of debility, dizziness

    CHENNAI: "I sold my kidney to settle debts and buy a house because we could not afford the rent. But the house we bought was swept away in the tsunami, and here I am on the road again," laments Bhuvaneswari, standing outside her roadside shack at Powerkuppam, a part of Chennai's northern fishing belt.

    And in that lies a truth: Chennai's northern coastal area has been a hub for organ trade for a long while now. The tsunami was just another catastrophe that compounded their problems and poverty.

    According to the figures put together by the Tiruvallur district administration, 30 persons (mostly women) living in the semi-permanent structures constructed for fisher folk from the North Chennai fishing coast displaced by the tsunami have donated organs. Four women sold their kidney after the tsunami.

    Rajammal of Ernavur says she sold her kidney 24 years ago. Many have followed suit, the women lured into selling their organs by brokers casing the narrow lanes of the fishing slums.

    A heady combination of poverty, unsteady income, illiteracy and blind faith in a few leaders of the community is what puts North Chennai at the centre of an organ trade business, says Paul Sunder Singh of Karunalya, an NGO working for several years in the area.

    "Kidney trade is just a symptom. The core issue is poverty," says R.Geeta of the Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangh. She adds that displacement from their sources of income exacerbates the poverty and calls for speedy completion of permanent shelters.

    Heavy debts

    "The broker promised to pay me Rs.1 lakh. Then it seemed a huge amount, the answer to all our problems. But I was paid only Rs.40,000," says Thilagavathy, who donated her kidney at a Madurai hospital in 2003. The broker, Karuppiah of Korukuppet, lured her to the hospital where her kidney was sold to the family of a 19-year-old person awaiting transplantation. "Things have not improved. Though I paid up one set of debts, others keep piling up. Women like me who head families are hard pressed to find work after the tsunami."

    It was escalating debts that pushed Mangatha, of Kargil Nagar, over the edge one and a half years ago. She sold her organ to a hospital in Chennai, as the broker promised to get her Rs.2 lakh. "All I got was Rs.40,000 and my debts were over Rs.60,000."

    Sundari sold her kidney just eight months ago to take care of an ailing mother-in- law. The stories are all similar: Women in debt after performing a marriage or taking care of an ailing relative seek a way out and in sheer desperation, sell a part of themselves for money.

    "I had borrowed Rs.30,000 to perform my daughter's marriage and struggled to repay it. A neighbour put me on to a broker in a Chennai hospital to help me sell one kidney," says Rani Chellapan. As a member of a community that has learnt to date events in relation to the tsunami, she says she gave her kidney prior to the tsunami for a sum of Rs.40,000. After paying up the loan amount, she spent the remaining sum to pay dowry to her son-in-law, leaving her with no money to live on, as she had planned.

    The women, especially those who were operated on at least two years ago, are now complaining of debility, dizziness, loss of appetite and body pain, all of which restrict their going about their tasks at home. Working for a living has been ruled out for the weaker women.

    `No regrets'

    And strangely, despite everything that happened, these women have no regrets about having sold their kidney. Muthamma, 34, of Thideer Nagar Pallam who sold her kidney in December 2003, says, " Oh, I don't regret that. There was nothing else I could have done then. What we regret is that despite selling a part of our body, we are still on the streets and without a meal to eat. We hope our children at least our children will not have to sell their organs to survive."

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