Thalaikkoothal: A Cruel Ritual Practice Of Killing The Elderly In India.

Thalaikkoothal: A Cruel Ritual Practice Of Killing The Elderly In India.

Thalaikkoothal is the crude ritual practice of senicide or involuntary euthanasia. Killing one’s elderly parents resembles that of leading a lamb to slaughter – except that there is no knife involved. It  is an oil bath in more than 50 villages of the Districts of Virudhunagar, Mandabasalai, Madurai, Thoothukudi and Theni in Tamil Nadu State in India.

In the internal parts of the state otherwise praised for a vibrant culture that transcends all walks of life, this ritualistic practice of senicide is accepted like an innocuous norm.
When a family is unable to bear the burden of an elderly, they kill them off. And, perhaps, the strongest of hearts would cringe at methods used to kill the elderly.
The elderly, usually above 50, are first given an oil bath. The body is massaged with 100ml each of coconut, castor and sesame oils, usually at dawn. After this, the person is given a cold bath and put to bed. The body temperature soon dips, often to a lethal extent. After 15 minutes, the person is made to drink a few glasses of tender coconut water and a glass of milk. This causes renal failure. In a day or two, the person catches fever and dies.
The other method is a massage of the head with cold water. This causes a sudden drop in body temperature. The body being old and infirm is unable to handle this change resulting in cardiac arrest.

There is a third way in case the other two do not work, the person would be given a glass of mud mixed with water or, a piece of murukku, a savoury, would be forced down the throat, which is hard to swallow causing suffocation and death.
Another popular material is a highly-toxic tablet used to kill pigs. It costs INR 10 and is sold under various brand names, such as Quickphos and Celphos, in pesticide shops throughout these villages. Usually, this tablet is mixed in tea given to the elderly. The death results from profound shock, myocarditis and multi-organ failure.
Now, pesticides, sleeping pills and lethal injections have become part of it. The local quacks prescribe Valium tablets. If these fail, the villagers call in the quack to inject a combination of poisons and a fatal dose of drugs. Death comes within minutes.
A survey carried out to study this senicide in Tamil Nadu reveals that there could be as many as 26 different ways.
Journal The Week reports, In M Reddiapatti, a village near Mandabasalai, 92-year-old Subbama Veluchamy was recently put to sleep by her family. Bedridden for more than 40 days, she was under the care of her sister-in-law and her son’s family. One day, after a bout of diarrhoea, Subbama refused to eat or drink. This was when the family decided to give her the oil bath. However, the bath failed, and a local quack prescribed a dozen sleeping pills. These, too, failed to put her out of her misery. The last resort was a lethal injection. As her veins were infirm, the quack pricked her foot and took her life. “We all could hear her crying loudly and quivering in pain. But the family cannot afford her,” says Kasthuri, her neighbor.

Though villagers claim they have buried this gruesome tradition, it has now taken on a silent form. Sometimes, the elderly themselves consent to Thalaikoothal. Then everything will be done with full preparation. Relatives are often told of the exact date, as if some marriage ceremony is being held.
“I am a burden. I don’t want to trouble you any more,” hands joined in supplication, Kannaki, 65,  says to her daughter Malar Ponnuchami. Tears run down her wrinkled face as she lifts her head to look into the eyes of her daughter. Her words are lost in sobs, and her lower lip trembles as she wipes away the tears with the corner of her muddled green sari.  Kannaki knows that her daughter has little time to take care of her. Her right leg and left hand, both paralysed, add to the burden. Malar, an agricultural laborer, ekes out a living and cannot afford her mother’s medicines.
Kannaki lives on one meal a day—a cup of kanji (rice gruel) early in the morning. “I don’t want to live. I know I will be killed as my daughter cannot afford to take care of me. But I want to die a peaceful death without pain. Will you help me?” she asked her daughter. Given her condition, Kannaki could soon be celebrated Thalaikoothal.
As a justification for their killing of the elderly, some offenders say the old bodies get rid of the suffering. Others say they do not have the means to take care of their parents.  The truth could be anything, including possessing ownership of property. Since a higher number of the elderly are men who usually have the property in their names, it somewhat validates the ownership angle.

Although Thalaikoothal is illegal in India, the practice has long received covert social acceptance as a form of mercy killing. But the government finds itself helpless to interfere in any practice of a society fiercely divided along religious, caste and traditional lines. So no one is arrested for this crime  because no one complaints and doctors often cite the reason of death as natural causes. Since the society accepts it as normal, there is no hue and cry. Entire villages can stand united behind those who carry out this practice.
With the diverse ways there are now to kill the elderly, the ritual has spawned an unorganized crime sector which involves middle men and quacks known as “vettiar” who claim to be siddhans (indigenous medical practitioners) and doctors. Because of the gravity of the act the quacks are involved in, the hesitating villagers refuse to divulge more details about them. What is more, this happens right under the nose of the law-makers and police.
Though the practice is ethically and legally unpardonable, one should note that it is sustained by the economic backwardness of this region. “Their livelihood has always been a question mark,” says J. Manivannan of Elders For Elders Foundation, an NGO in Cuddalore. “They are farm laborers. Both men and women work but their daily earnings can meet only one person’s needs.”
State health secretary J. Radhakrishnan, however, claims, “Government of Tamil Nadu is doing best for palliative care”.

That this barbaric murder is socially acceptable tells a lot about the lurking evil in a society that appears perfectly civilized and chest-thumps on its ancient history.

To the hoi polloi in the villages and towns where Thalaikoothal is practiced, this is the “cycle of life”.
Even the activists trying to end this barbaric practice tread carefully. They have taken the indirect route of educating the masses about how an elderly can be cared for better, instead of telling them on the face that their practice is nothing less than demonic. 

Our duty as Christians is to evangelize to the people who practice this ungodly act on the dangers of committing murder which is against the sixth (6th) commandment. Also, We should never fail to pray for their conversion. 

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