A government with a heart could not ignore our strike anymore, Muneesa, holding a mike, had said this morning, standing outside Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's residence in Thiruvananthapuram. She and all the protestors with her – victims of the Kasargod endosulfan tragedy – had walked from their protest camp in front of the Secretariat towards the CM’s house, on the fifth day of their strike. Hours later, it appears the protestors found the government’s heart, for they have come out of the CM’s chamber in the afternoon, a compromise reached, new promises in hand.
Protest march towards CM's residence on Sunday
“They have agreed to include 450 more names in the new list (of people eligible for treatment),” says Muneesa, president, Endosulfan Peeditha Janakeeya Munnani. The earlier list included 5848 people, who are being compensated. The new list had initially contained 1905 names after a medical camp checkup two years ago, but mysteriously got reduced to 287 later.
When angry mothers raised their voices, 77 more names had been added. But that’s still a lot less and the mothers, holding their unwell children, came from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram to strike yet again – there were multiple strikes before, thrice during the time of the previous UDF government and twice after the LDF took charge.
It was also agreed in the Sunday meeting with the CM that medical records of the remaining 1905 people would be examined again, without considering borders. And those who missed the medical camp, owing to a harthal, would be examined again. The Supreme Court verdict (directing Kerala government to give Rs 500 Crore as compensation to over 5000 victims) would also be implemented, and rehabilitation taken care of.
The protestors – about 30 of them – had come from Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram on January 30, carrying with them the child victims of the deadly pesticide, whose effects continue to affect newborns, years after it was banned in the state. Daya Bai, social activist, who joined the strike, has been fasting for five days, until this afternoon, when the demands were addressed.
Daya Bai hugs a mother and child after the protest ends
In her morning speech, Muneesa reminded the government that they had been their strongest supporters earlier, during the time of the previous government, when the endosulfan victims protested against the ‘consideration of borders’. It seems the different governments had explained the exclusion of names in lists with the theory that the effect of the pesticide could not reach more than two kilometers outside of the areas it was sprayed on. But it was aerial spraying for two decades and the effects could reach up to 50 km, experts studying the situation had argued.
“We could not accept this argument about borders. That’s why our discussion with the Health Minister on the third day of the strike had failed,” Muneesa says.
Health Minister KK Shailaja’s comment that it was not right of the protestors to “exhibit these children” was also not taken well. “It is with a lot of difficulty that we came from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram, with these children. These are mothers who are striking for the rights of their children. When the mothers strike, where will they abandon these children who need their continuous attention? Whatever deformities they have, how do these children become exhibits for their mothers?” Muneesa asked.
To Shailaja teacher’s comment that she doesn’t understand what is the special interest behind this ‘exhibitionism’, Muneesa replied that they had no such interest, they did not want to pull down any government. “We are just asking to help these mothers who can’t go to work, leaving these kids who cannot do anything without another’s help, who can’t even walk on their own. We only want the government to give them their rights. Please don’t see the strike in any other way. Please don’t mix politics or religion or caste in this strike and hurt these poor people.”