A heartbreaking scene unfolded at a government hospital at Dindigul in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday.
Two teenage boys, sorrow and resignation writ large on their faces, approached strangers in the hospital. They asked for money, but not for themselves. They had just lost their mother, their sole breadwinner. And they had no cash and nobody to help them perform her last rites.
Mohanraj (15) and Velumurugan’s (14) mother Vijaya was diagnosed with breast cancer. Their father, Kaliappan, a daily wage labourer, died nine years ago. And when their mother too, passed away on Wednesday, the distraught boys sat helplessly beside her lifeless body, not knowing what they could do.
They reportedly called some of their relatives using someone’s phone at the hospital. However, no one save Kaliappan’s brother came to help. Kaliappan and Vijaya reportedly had an intercaste marriage, leading them to be ostracised from the community. So, when the hospital told the children to come with elders to take their mother’s body for cremation, no one in their village, Koothampatti, came forward.
Some people who saw the boys sitting in the hospital felt moved and offered them some money. But it was not enough to conduct her last rites. The teenagers then went from person to person at the hospital, asking for money to give their dead mother a proper goodbye.
Their plight moved one Dr Malathi Prakash and the District Collector, who also reportedly contributed after being informed of the situation.
S Elangovan, former president of the Rotary Club in Dindigul, also came to the hospital on Thursday morning, and helped the children take their mother to the crematorium and conduct the last rites.
Finally, Vijaya was cremated at an electric crematorium in Dindigul.
A difficult life
The family has not had an easy life.
The Hindu reported that Vijaya was from a Dalit family in Nagercoil, and after she married out of caste, all relatives cut ties with the couple. They moved to Koothampatti 15 years ago and had been living there since.
After Kaliappan’s death, they had a house, but the burden of supporting the two boys and their nine-year-old sister fell entirely on Vijaya.
Mohanraj said that his mother would never turn down work. She would toil for long hours, and do goat rearing to put food on the table.
Mohanraj collecting money from people in the hospital
She also wanted her children to do well in studies. And while Mohanraj had to drop out this year, just a month after he was promoted to Class 9, his sister and younger brother study at a residential school in Oddanchatiram.
Four months ago, Mohanraj took Vijaya to the Rajaji Hospital in Madurai when the 40-year-old had started falling sick. However, he was told that a woman would have to accompany Vijaya because men were not allowed in the ward. Mohanraj sought help from his relatives, but was once again left with no one to rely on but himself.
It was finally a woman in their village who agreed to help but only if she was paid Rs 300 for every trip to the hospital. It was then that Mohanraj was forced to quit school and find work. He began working at bakery where he earned a meagre wage of Rs 200 a day.
On Tuesday, the panicked teenager saw his mother’s condition deteriorate. He called the ambulance when she started writhing in pain. However, Vijaya passed away the next day.
Hope for a better future
“I did not expect my mother to die,” Mohanraj said. He added, however, that because of the outpouring of support, he and his siblings may be able to complete their education and fulfil their mother’s dream of seeing her children educated.
With the help of actor Raghava Lawrence’s association as well as the District Collector, the teenager says that they should be provided for financially. S Elangovan also told TNM that he had given the children some cash and would be happy to help them get into a school – his organisation runs one in Dindigul.
Murugan, Velumargan, Mohanraj and S Elangovan. Photo courtesy Elangovan
“Initially, I thought I would have to work to see my sister's education complete, but with many people coming forward to take care of it, I do not need money,” Mohanraj said.