How a Malayalam short throws light on issues of persons with intellectual disability

Filmmaker Gopal Menon said that there have been a number of cases of people with intellectual disabilities being reportedly killed by family members, out of ‘concern’.
Still from the film
Still from the film
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More than leaving her teenage daughter tied to the bed, what pains the mother is finding the girl with a soiled skirt, her hands drenched in menstrual blood. In Gopal Menon's short film Madithattu, made to spread awareness about people with intellectual disability, this is the sequence that finally persuades the mother to seek medical help. Only, before help could reach her and the daughter, they might have taken their lives, as it has happened in many real life cases Gopal studied before making the film. Gopal decided to make the film after his conversations with PKM Siraj, who runs the Humanity Charitable Trust, a non-profit in Kozhikode for the welfare of people with intellectual disability (ID).

"Siraj had asked if I could make a documentary to spread awareness about the struggles faced by persons with intellectual disability and their caregivers. But a documentary may not have the reach of a fictional film. We did not have the budget for a feature film so we chose to do a short film, basing it on many true life stories," Gopal said. Sreelakshmi Pookkad, a Masters student of Psychology, played the 14-year-old girl with ID, and Devi Ajith played her mother. 

Devi's character was based on a real life woman who had six children with disabilities and had then been abandoned by her husband. In the film, there are three children and the single mother is driven to take the lives of her girl and herself when, on top of everything, the minor daughter is also abused. 

"Cases of killing of children with intellectual disability are increasing at an alarming rate in Kerala these days," Gopal said. The situations become worse in the case of single parents, especially mothers, as shown in Gopal's film, because in many such situations, the father disappears. 

Siraj, who has been running his NGO for 28 years, said that these families go through really tough times. "They get isolated from other families. And they also worry about their growing children who become stronger with age as they get weaker. Who will look after the growing children when the parents are too old or no longer there. Or when they have another child, they can't give them care because all their attention has to be on the child with ID. Added to that, there will be adolescence issues, especially menstrual time issues for girls," he said. 

An Alappuzha-based NGO, Save Lives, reported that there were 16 incidents in Kerala in the last two years in which people with disability were reportedly murdered. Save Lives, which is an organisation of parents of persons with ID, reported that the murders were mostly by family members who were worried about the future of the person with disability. 

Organisations providing residential care for persons with ID are much needed, not just at the district level but at the panchayat level too, Siraj said. But at the moment, there is not even one in every district, he said. His organisation has a facility for children below 18 years of age, as well as a residential care for those above 18. "There are facilities to drop off my pets if I am going away for a few days but there is no district-level centre to take care of a person with ID," he said.

Little help has come from the side of the government. Dr MK Jayaraj who presented a study of the issues faced by people with ID to the government in 2013, said that except for their welfare, nothing much has been done towards helping them to be self-reliant in the direction of education or jobs. "Such opportunities or circumstances are less for people with ID in Kerala. Their issues are never a priority for politicians and policy makers and serious discussions are still not happening," Jayaraj said.  

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