Shahida Kamal, Women’s Commission member in Kollam, rescued the woman who the family claims is 'mentally unstable' with the help of the police.

Fed once a day forced to live in filth Kerala woman locked up by family for 20 yrsLatha, in the room in Kollam she had been locked in for 20 years
news Human Rights Saturday, May 25, 2019 - 17:34

What Shahida Kamal saw through the open window shocked her so much that she let out a scream. The people who were with her came around, asking her what had happened. She pointed a finger to the human form inside that little building which looked no bigger than a tall dog house. A middle-aged woman was sitting inside, in a room that was covered in filth – mud and human excreta among plastic plates and other waste. When Shahida regained her calm, she spoke to the woman and heard clear answers from the other side. Her name was Latha, she had been locked inside this room for many years.

Shahida had not thought much about it when a concerned journalist called her to tell her about this woman, who was locked up in a room in Kollam, Kerala. As a member of the Women’s Commission in Kollam, Shahida would get many such calls. Often it would end with her finding helpless women in filthy conditions. She would then give them instructions on how to clean themselves and put them in better conditions. “But this case really shocked me so much. The room was the kind you find in the basement of a house where all the discarded items are left behind. To find a human in there was just really sad,” Shahida tells TNM.

The relatives admitted that they had kept the woman locked in there for 20 years. She was "mentally unstable" and they had taken her to a hospital, but if she was left unlocked, she would run away, they claimed. 

Latha being recued out of the filthy room she was locked in

“That’s the excuse they gave for locking her up for so long. But they could have taken her to an institution,” Shahida says. It is not known yet if there's any truth to the family's claims.

When she found the woman in there, Shahida called the police to help her with the rescue. She asked the relatives – a sister who lived next door – to bring the key. But the key would not open the lock – it had been unused for far too long. “It had to be broken down. What is incredible is that this woman – 46 years old – survived these filthy conditions for so long, without even a germ affecting her. I doubt that one could stand even 20 hours in such conditions, forget 20 years. Anyone would have lost their mind.”

But then Latha was very clear in her answers. She told Shahida her name, where she'd studied (the SN College in Kollam), how much she'd studied (she went up to Pre Degree). Latha also told her that she was fed only one time a day, in the morning. And a hose was put through the window, through which she could drink or pour water over herself. But she had to urinate and defecate in that room.

Latha, after she took a bath and wore clean clothes, with Shahida

“When we took her out of that building, and got her to take a bath and wear clean clothes, she looked a totally different person. I told her that I will take her somewhere else where there will be friends and she immediately said yes, ok, thanks,” Shahida says.

Latha’s husband had abandoned her many years ago and she has a son from the marriage, who is now 22 years old and living with his aunt next door. He works in a shop. “It is shocking that he let his mother live in these conditions. Even if they can’t afford a better facility, they could have taken her to an institution or let her live with them,” Shahida says. She even asked the neighbours how they could let this happen.

Latha has been admitted at the Punalur Taluk Hospital for three days for a checkup and it was found that she had no health issues, except fatigue and a mental disturbance. “Anyone would be in such a state after being locked up for so many years in such a room. We have taken her to the Pathanapuram Gandhi Bhavan from the hospital. She now resides there," says Shahida.

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