Apart from leading several protests, Muneesa also conceptualised Snehaveedu, a day care home in Ambalathara for endosulfan child victims.

Endosulfan took her sight now 34-yr-old Muneesa fights for rights of other victims
news Human Interest Wednesday, June 06, 2018 - 07:24

The mother of the 32-year-old man packs his bag and waits every day for the Snehaveedu bus to send her son to the day care home. Differently abled, her son has the brain development of a two year old. In the evening, the mother waits on the doorsteps of their house in Ambalathara village in Kasargode for her son to come back, as anxious as the mother of a little boy.

She is only one of the scores of mothers in the district who have devoted their lives to taking care of their differently abled children, all victims of the aerial spraying of endosulfan pesticide.

The haunting agony of these mothers, who have given up everything in life – all the celebrations or even an outing – to bring up their children has made Muneesa a fighter. Muneesa, a visually impaired woman, is also an endosulfan victim. But over the years she has become a leader fighting for the victims and leading their struggles. She also conceptualised ‘Snehaveedu’, a day care home in Ambalathara for child victims.

Victim turned fighter

In 2012, Ambalatha Kunjikrishnan, who has been in the forefront of the victims’ struggle, initiated Muneesa into the world of protests. It was a protest at the Kasargode Collectorate.

“Till then I had no idea of who the endosulfan victims actually were, or what they were going through… though I was a victim myself. It was a step into the world of consistent struggle… to get the bare minimum things to keep life going,” Muneesa recalls.

From then, she has stood by the victims and been part of all their struggles. In 2013, there was a 36-day fasting protest at Kasargode New Bus Stand by endosulfan agitation leaders. Muneesa was there almost every day, though she didn’t fast as the leaders were firm that the victims shouldn’t fast. In 2014, Muneesa along with the victims and their mothers staged a protest outside Cliff House, the official residence of the Kerala Chief Minister. In 2016, they staged a pattini samaram (hunger strike) in front of the Secretariat. In the same year, Muneesa became the president of the Endosulfan Peeditha Janakeeya Munnani, the prime organisation fighting for the victims.

“I don’t know why, the mothers of the victims soon started sharing their problems with me. They have all become my friends, although they are older than me. Learning their problems was a big moment of self-realisation for me. Till then, I was thinking only about my worries, my problems,” she opens up.

“The mothers of the victims, they take care of the children round the clock and have had sleepless nights all these years. One 14-year-old girl would wake up every night at 1 am. Her mother wouldn’t sleep, she would just sit with her daughter outside the house the entire night, so as not to disturb her husband and other daughter. When we were together at the Secretariat protest, during the nights I saw mothers holding 10 and 14-year-old children, who are unable to walk, as if they were attending to infants. Just imagine the mothers’ state of mind,” Muneesa adds.

Before and after

Muneesa recalls that in the past she would get upset over minor things, saying, “I would become sad if I didn’t get a certificate issued from an office. In 2003, the university missed my request for a scribe to write my exams. After making me wait for hours, they finally realised it was their fault. But by that time I had lost my confidence and had to re-appear for the exam. That incident was a shock for me. But now I would question or correct even a minister or collector when it is needed.”

Snehaveedu

The initial plan was to start a day care home for four or five differently abled children, after some mothers cited that there were no schools to send their children. In 2014, Snehaveedu (meaning ‘a home of love’ in Malayalam) began in a rented house with five children. In August 2017, it shifted to its own building, thanks to the help of a group of good Samaritans.

Read: Brick by brick: How a care center for Kerala's endosulfan victims was built fully from donation

Now the home has 15 children, two help staff and a teacher. The home is run with the help of kind-hearted people.

Who is Muneesa?

Muneesa was a born in a family of eight children in Ambalathara. Like Muneesa, one of her brothers, Ashraf, is also blind. Muneesa is in the government list of endosulfan victims while Ashraf is not. Young Muneesa had to be away from home and complete high school in a special institute.

“As it was government run, the school and the hostel had many limitations, I had to struggle with so many things. But the determination to study, the thought that I won’t reach anywhere if I don’t study kept me moving. I didn’t get the care which I desired,” she tells TNM.

Muneesa graduated in History from the Government College, Kasargode and also completed her post-graduation in Malayalam there. She is a teacher by training and profession.

“When I joined B Ed in a college in Kottayam, I went through one of the most painful experiences in my life. People there didn’t take any efforts to help me, even the friend trusting whom I had joined the course. I discontinued the course, returned to Kasargode and joined a B Ed centre near Cherkkala. There I got amazing friends,” she says.

Muneesa worked as a Social Science teacher in two schools from 2013 to 2017. “I need to pass the SET exam to continue my career, but right now I am not in a state of mind to prepare for exams. Also for people like me, the formalities are more,” she says.

Muneesa’s dream

The mother of a victim recently told Muneesa that she had nothing to do at home during the day.

“She has a seven-year-old child who is bedridden. She is their only child. She would comb her hair, apply kajal to her eyes and sing lullabies. She told me that she was fed up of sitting alone at home after her husband leaves for work. She asked me if we could think of something that makes us spend time together. I am thinking the same too,” says Muneesa.

“Muneesa has an inner light, which many people don’t have. People have eyesight, but that doesn’t necessarily enable them to see others’ worries. Only those who have inner light can see that,” says Ambikasuthan Mangad, a writer and another leader of endosulfan victims.

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