Lost in wilderness on Vedaranyam shores

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Wandering mentally ill persons found along Thalainayar-Kodiakadu stretch

forlorn: A mentally challenged man lost in the wilderness at Kodiakarai in Nagapattinam. Photo:B. Velankanni Raj
forlorn: A mentally challenged man lost in the wilderness at Kodiakarai in Nagapattinam. Photo:B. Velankanni Raj

The arid air only becomes more corrosive with the vast stretches of salt pans dotting the landscape of Vedaranyam here. Even more unsettling is the sight of greased bodies stretching out lazily under the scorching sun, or hobbling past, lost in the wilderness of a dysfunctional mind.

The lengthy stretches of Vedaranyam are home to several mentally deranged persons. These women and men, with shards for clothes and matted hair, reside in the most subhuman, uninhabitable spaces, completely negated of any semblance of dignity.

Inter-state trucks ply in and out of Vedaranyam with its tobacco, salt and casuarinas. But, the vacant trucks do bring in the stray person, with a deranged mind. According to the locals, who claim to have intercepted few such trucks, the drivers are paid for transporting them in a bid to get rid of them.

A fortnight ago, a salt truck upturned killing one such disturbed man, leaving behind an unclaimed body and an un-mourned death. The dead man, presumed to be elderly, was just one of the scores of mentally-ill, who find their way into Vedaranyam.


Two years ago, Friends of Police here took up the initiative of securing over 27 mentally challenged persons here. They were washed up, and on securing court orders, they were taken to the Kilpauk Mental Institution in Chennai with the support of the district administration. “There are some 20 mentally disturbed women and more than 20 men in the stretch from Thalainayar, Vedaranyam, Kodiakarai, and Kodiakadu,” says Mujib Sherif, a volunteer with FOP.

According to Mr.Sherif, who coordinated the earlier attempt at restore these people to institutional care, such interventions have to be sustained. “We are willing to identify people, but we need help from the administration.”

Tales of human rights violations against these destitute are heartwrenching. “I have witnessed hot water splashed over a mentally challenged man's face, and when we wanted to file a complaint with the police, they were not receptive,” says Mr.Sherif.

According to Govindaraj, Joint Director, Health, around 27 persons from Vedaranyam and 14 from Sirkazhi were sent to institutional care. But, that was two years ago, and since then, a few too many have floated in, and no intervention has come forth.

Their unrecorded tales of toil– battling with dogs for pecks at food from garbage, to siestas in putrid environs of public toilets on the decrepit bus stands, are just too many–say locals. These barefoot wanderers, ubiquitous along Agasthiampalli and in the protected reserve forests of Kodiakkarai, walk endlessly with nowhere yet everywhere to go. With no organisation dedicated to their cause in district, their crouched bodies and their derailed minds will continue to exist in defiance of humanity, alongside the taunting monkeys of the reserve forest.




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