It was a picture of a small girl with deformed limbs standing near the front door of her house, staring out despondently. It was a photo that told Kerala and the rest of the world the poignant tale of endosulfan-victims in the nondescript villages of Kasargod district. In 2001, Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumiâ€™s chief-photographer Madhuraj captured this moving picture of seven-year-Shruti, who lived in Padre village in Kasargod. The child was one among the hundreds who had been affected by indiscriminate spraying of pesticide endosulfan at the cashew plantations in the district. Shruti had just four fingers on both hands, her legs too were deformed. Her disturbing image, along with few others, became iconic in the battle against endosulfan.
The same year, activists from all across the globe descended on Kasargode to start a global campaign against the killer chemical. Russia was one of the first nations to ban the pesticide and Shrutiâ€™s image was used widely in the campaign. Fourteen years later the Mathrubhumi office got a call stating that Shruti has been admitted into the Government College of Homeopathy in Bengaluru. A rare story of perseverance and hard work, Shruti, the child who walked 8kms everyday in a hilly terrain to get to her school with an artificial limb, was now in Bengaluru to study alternative medicine.
Shrutiâ€™s story has been traced by many through the years, but for Madhuraj, it was a special moment to see her latest picture, a 21-year old married woman with sindhoor on her forehead and all set for college-life. â€śShrutiâ€™s picture from 2001 was used by activists and NGOs on international platforms to exert pressure to ban endosulfan,â€ť Madhuraj recalls. International and Indian groups used the photo along with some others during talks at Stockholm Convention in 2001, it was also used by Russian activists, one of the first countries to ban the pesticide.
Shruti was three when her mother Meenakshi, also an Endosulfan victim, succumbed to cancer. Over the years Shruti has undergone multiple surgeries. Even though she had to undergo artificial limb modification every year, her right lower limb was amputated. "I remember her very well, that day when I visited her house she was standing near the door. I don't think she knew I was taking her photo. I am so happy to learn that she is leading a good life now and has a family and husband to support her. I knew she was a brilliant child and was good at studies, but this news came as a big surprise for me,â€ť says Madhuraj. â€śWhat I have achieved is because of the support of many people. I want to become a doctor. I want to help the poor.â€ť Shruti.
One of those people who helped Shruti was Dr YS Mohan Kumar from Mangalore. From convincing Shrutiâ€™s father to send her to school, to teaching her how to hold the pencil and even arranging a Jaipur-foot for her, the doctorâ€™s contribution has been immense. Read about him here. â€śUnlike many children in the vicinity having low IQ levels due to endosulfan poisoning, Shruthi was healthy and her brain functioned normally. She showed tremendous interest in studies and got timely help,'' Dr YS Mohan Kumar told the Times of India. All photos courtesy Mathrubhumi.com