Monday, November 15, 2010

Would you kill your mother?

Just read this shocking article in India's
"Maariyamma is likely to be killed by her children because they cannot afford her. They will give her a loving oil bath. Several glasses of coconut water. A mouthful of mud. Perhaps a poison injection. She is just one of many old parents in Tamil Nadu dying in this way. But no one blinks at these ritual murders." [...]
"When 65-year-old Maariyamma suspected this might happen to her too, she moved out of her son’s house two years ago. “I’m not well enough to live on my own, but it is better than being killed by them,” she says. Amazingly, there is no bitterness in her voice. Or anger. “They’re struggling hard to take care of their own children,” says Maariyamma, of her sons." [...]
“When the milk is being poured, the nose is held tight,” says [farmer] Dorairaj. This ‘milk treatment’ is often preceded by starvation. The household stops serving the parent solid food. “When milk is poured uninterruptedly into the mouth, it goes into the respiratory track. A starving person cannot withstand even a moment’s suffocation,” says 60-year-old Paul Raj, coordinator of a district elders’ welfare association."
Incredibly tragic. It is so common that the practice even has a name - thalaikoothal in Tamil.

As an Asian who grew up with the concept of filial piety, I find this very shocking. In Singapore, we are taught from young that our parents sacrifice to bring us up. So when they are old, it is our turn, as children, to take care of them. Singapore even has a Maintenance of Parents Act, enacted in 1995. It is a legal requirement for adult children to look after their parents, and some parents have indeed sued their children for "parent support".

But Singapore is a rich country. We do not face the same problems as the very poor in India, where according to government statistics, more than 17,500 farmers killed themselves between 2002 and 2006 every year. (Read more on wikipedia). (I wonder if thalaikoothal happens in desperately poor parts of Cambodia at all?)

One way of looking at thalaikoothal is it's mercy killing. As one Doctor Death told the Telheka reporter: “I am not killing anybody who may have a longer life. It is done only in the last and final stage of one’s life. Why should they suffer in poverty?”

So there is no debate about euthanasia in the Virudhunagar district in Tamil Nadu, the way there is in our countries, where poverty is not a reason to kill your parents or loved ones. I googled to find other cultures that kill the aged among them and found this:
Aged people who have outlived their usefulness and whose life is a burden both to themselves and their relatives are put to death by stabbing or strangulation. This is customarily done at the request of the individual concerned, but not always so. Aged people who are a hindrance on the trail are abandoned.
—Antoon A. Leenaars, on the Labrador Inuit, in Suicide in Canada (1916) Quoted in wikipedia/wiki/Inuit).
I was once told American Indians pinch the noses of babies when they want them to stop crying. The babies soon learn crying makes them suffocate. The Indians do this because the babies' cries alerted animals or enemies to their presence. I am reminded of this story as I think about how sometimes people do things that seem strange to us, but they do it because they have to survive.

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