A death throws light on Tamil Nadu’s apathy towards differently abled

Activist claims differently-abled department has not been established in the newly created districts

Saranya had died after falling into the septic tank of a house near her workplace on December 5 | Photo: By special arrangement

Under the Swachh Bharat scheme, Tamil Nadu claims to have built a large number of toilets and that it’s a 100% open defecation free state now. But the recent death of a 24-year-old differently-abled girl in Kancheepuram district due to the lack of toilet facilities in her working premises poses serious questions to the state government’s claim.

Saranya, a resident of Asiriyar Nagar village in the district, had died after falling into the septic tank of a house near her workplace on December 5. The reason behind her compulsion to go there was to use the restroom since her workplace has no toilet facility.

Saranya had joined as a junior assistant in the state agricultural extension centre after clearing the Group IV exams in 2019. Besides her, three other women were also working in that centre. To relieve themselves, the employees used to visit a house nearby where the residents had been using the septic tank as a toilet.

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On the fateful day, it was raining when Saranya went there. The concrete slab of the septic tank was broken and when she stepped on the tank, she fell inside. Her co-workers allegedly found her inside the tank after half an hour, however, she succumbed on the way to the hospital.

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“She had been complaining about the lack of toilet facilities and showed no interest in going to work. But we convinced her. She was studious and preparing for Group-I exams,” said Kalaivanan, brother-in-law of Saranya.

Balaji, district treasurer, Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC) said that the centre’s employees had complained to their higher authorities several times about the lack of restroom. But their demand was not heeded.

“The differently-abled are facing a lot of problems and are unable to avail welfare measures since the district has no separate department for them. Everytime, we need to visit the department office in Chengalpattu district. Chengalpattu was carved out of Kancheepuram district in 2019 but no steps were taken to open a department office here,” he said.

Deepaknathan, founder, December 3 Movement, an organisation working towards disability rights, said the differently-abled department has not been established in the newly created districts.

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“In 2013, the state government has sent out a GO which mandated five basic amenities to be made in every government premises, such as ramp, lift, setting up of hand rails, special toilets, and parking facilities. But most of the government offices are lacking these facilities,” he said.

He said the government always wears a “charitable” attitude towards the differently abled, but is “ignorant and negligent.” “In most government institutions, the ‘differently-abled friendly’ zones have not been created or not maintained where it has been made,” added Deepaknathan.

“Leave out the special toilets built under Swachh Bharat Mission, even normal toilets are not built properly. In many government institutions including the Secretariat, normal toilets are too lacking. That’s the pressing issue now,” he added.

The Commissioner for the Welfare of the Differently Abled was not available for a comment.

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