No end in sight to his travails

SOLDIERING ON: Kathavathu Lakshma Naik carries the burden of taking care of his four visually-challeged children at Chakrayepalem thanda in Guntur district.—  

P. Samuel Jonathan

70-year-old man is forced to work to support his wife and visually-challenged children

CHAKRAYEPALEM (GUNTUR DT): When men of his age tend to spend leisurely at home, the 70-year-old Kethavathu Lakshma Naik is forced to work in agricultural fields to support a unique medically disadvantage family. This is not the only family in the Chakrayapalem Thanda, there are some other families in despair due to marriage within family and close blood relations a tradition among the tribals. Lakshma Naik's family has four children, all of them congenitally visually impaired, an after effect of consanguineous marriage.

Born in a tribal hamlet, Lakshma Naik married Sonki Bai and the couple had 10 children, most of them following the footsteps of their father and eking out a livelihood as farm labourers. But, tragedy struck the family when the couple discovered that four children were born congenitally visually impaired.

The visually impaired children are -- Kethavathu Rana Naik (28), Hona Naik (30), Hali Bai (26) and Sali Bai (25).

Unfazed, the couple brought up the children and provided all that they could to improve their living standard. But as the four children grew older, maintaining a large family was getting difficult. Till recently, the visually impaired youth had no access to monthly disabled pensions, but when the government came to know about their plight it started giving monthly pensions worth Rs.500. The family was able to construct house with government grant.

Another tragedy

Just when things started to fall in place, tragedy struck again as Sonki Bai, the mother, was paralysed, forcing the old man to bear the burden on his frail shoulders. “I hardly get Rs.150 a day and that is not sufficient to feed five mouths,'' Lakshma Naik bemoans.

The thanda has many such children born with congenital defects, primarily as a result of consanguineous marriages widely practised among tribals. Banavat Venkateswara Rao who is aged about 30 years looks like a five year old and is suffering from dwarfism.

In another family, four girls -- Sravani Bai (8), Eswari Bai (10), Chandini (10) and Keerthi Bai (12) -- were also born congenitally impaired adding to the misery of their parents. But, none of the tribal families has left their children and has been rearing them in the most difficult circumstances.

Most of the tribals were illiterate and wed among their own families and the practice of consanguineous marriage was often found to be root cause of the congenital defects in the children. The district administration could take up a mass awareness programmes in tribal dialects to spread the message of family planning and literacy.