Suraj so hates being labelled a ‘manthabudhhi’ (a crude word for someone mentally handicapped) that he always got into fights with whosoever indulged in such name-calling. When it worsened, he simply kept away from school and play….he even hated going to the shop, as whoever he came across seemed to lose no chance at mocking him.
The 17-year old for years just could not understand why he was being laughed at, or made the target of incessant taunts.
Back home he banged his head on walls, recklessly rode his cycle, rarely venturing out and talking only to his parents and sister.
Alappat Rajan -Suraj’s father- and his family has gone through traumatic times for no fault of theirs.
Sharing the story of their ostracism from mainstream society with The News Minute, Rajan recalls: “We used to have 3.5 cents of land and a house that was handed over to us by our ancestors at Paravur in Ernakulam.
“One day our neighbours asked us for some part of the land for road-widening purposes. But our house was hardly two feet away from the road, and they would end up demolishing a part of the house. We naturally refused,” he says.
It heralded the beginning of their woes. Rajan believes that was when the neighbours began to harass Suraj to get back at them: “They kept provoking him every time he went out, called him hurtful names, and even went to the extent of manhandling him which got him into hospitals quite often.”
According to Rajan -who works as a fisherman in a commercial fishing boat- the only way Suraj knows how to retaliate is by screaming. Sarojini -Suraj’s mother- has lost count of the times her son has been mercilessly beaten up: “This is besides the numerous cases they keep filing against him with the police. Once they even came up with a combined petition signed by a number of our neighbours terming Suraj a public nuisance.”
The family wonders how a boy who rarely speaks or mingles with others can suddenly become a nuisance. The entire family had to do the countless rounds of the police station in this regard.
“One night my son was having his dinner at home, when some policemen rushed in and asked him to come out immediately. After verbally abusing my wife and daughter, they carried out a body-search of Suraj. Was he some kind of terrorist with a hidden cache of weapons?” asks Rajan.
That very evening, on March 2 this year, they decided enough was enough. Rajan along with his wife and children left their ancestral home, taking with them whatever they could get their hands on. They were clueless about their destination till such time the boat owner -for whom Rajan works- took them to a small house located at Kunjithai in North Paravur. It was around ten kilometres away from their home in a sparsely-populated neighbourhood spread over a bushy zone.
There is no proper approach-road to the house which is located almost five kilometres away from main road. But since there was not much of a choice available to them in the matter, they sold their ancestral home dirt cheap. With the money obtained from the sale, they bought the new house.
“It almost seems like we live in some sort of a jungle. The place is infested with snakes, but we any day prefer them to our previous neighbours,” remarks Sarojini.
Meanwhile Suraj wrote his Std X exams with the help of a scribe. “He is now in Plus One but rarely goes to school. He is not able to study and is terrified of the outside world,” rues his mother.
On seeing this reporter as he was returning from school, Suraj wanted to know whether she had come to see him because he is sick. “I am not sick. People call me those names for no reason at all,” he reiterates.
Though initially reluctant to converse any further, a gift of a few chocolates makes him open up soon. “I love to play football. I have watched it on television. But people here don’t allow me to join in. I don’t talk to them, as they laugh at me,” he shares.
The experience at school is not helping him either. “I sit all alone on the last bench. I can hear what the teacher says though. No one calls me names in my new class. I used to fight earlier, only because they used to do so in my previous schools. During games period however, the rest play in groups, but I am not allowed near them,” Suraj sounds sad.
Rajan is grateful for the peace of mind that they now have, but is worried about his son’s survival skills in this cruel world.
“He is sick, but is that a crime? Somewhere at the back of our minds, we are afraid that he might be beaten up again. We have heard rumours that our earlier neighbours are just waiting for him to attain 18 years of age, for them to trump up some false charge against him and put him in jail,” Rajan voices his concerns.
A couple of regional evening dailies had reported on how the family was forced to vacate their ancestral home for fear of further persecution by their neighbours and the police.
“The law is meant to save us from harassment. But in our case, the police joined hands with the rest of the society to make life a living hell for us. At least here, we are able to live in peace,” affirms Rajan.