Two Legs To Stand On - A Lesson For Us All
By G. B.
This is a story about a boy, some thieves, misused help and callous indifference.
It is a cautionary tale for all of us - for those who feel the need to help others who are suffering and for those who turn their eyes and hearts away.
The boy's name is Palani, he says he is eighteen years old. He is a very sweet, bright-eyed young fellow, intelligent and cheerful, living under the most appalling circumstances.
I first saw him outside Sri Ramanasramam four years ago, he was begging for money and limping. Half of his left foot had been surgically removed and he was obviously in difficulty. He was dirty, smelled quite badly and his English seemed to be limited but understandable. He approached me and showed me the soles of his feet; both had large holes in them and maggots were eating away quite happily at the edges of the holes. I could see the bones of one foot protuding through the flesh.
I took him immediately to see a doctor who pronounced him to be suffering from leprosy because he had no sensation in his lower legs - this later proved to be false.
I gave him some money and set about trying to find some help for him. I asked those who were in a position to help to do so and the reply I received was, 'there are thousands like him in India, why do you bother with him, send him away'. After some time I sent him to the local government hospital where they treated and bandaged his wounds and told him to return every day for antibiotic injections in his legs. This he did for a while then disappeared from sight.
It was not until my next visit that I saw him again. By this time a French lady had taken him under her wing and was arranging for surgery for him. A local man called Subramani who said he wanted to be social worker agreed to take care of Palani and to ensure that all of the money went where it should go - it turns out that Subramani's pocket is where he thought it should go and not to Palani. This despicable person did do a little for Palani but pocketed 90% of everything given for him by others and then asked for more. He has been enjoying a nice lifestyle since and continues to plague caring people for money.
Palani did have surgery three years ago, skin grafts to fill the holes in his feet, but it was surgery that crippled him in the end because it was not accompanied by the right aftercare and backup treatment.
The catalogue of mistreatment for this child is dreadful. His disease is actually osteomylytis, contracted from a cut in one foot when he was six years old. This was not treated properly and half of his left foot was cut off to prevent what is assumed to have been gangrene from spreading.
Five years ago he was admitted to the local Sri Ramana Rangammal Hospital where they cured the holes in his feet and treated the infection. He was told that he must return to the hospital and become an in-patient for 20 days to ensure that the osteomylytis was fully cured - all of this free. He did not go back to the hospital but was forced to return to begging on the street by his grandmother - he lives with her because his father is dead and his mother deserted both him and his younger brother.
Other organisations have tried to help him, even approaching his grandmother to let him be taken into care and cured, but she refused point blank. Palani was her source of income, bringing up to 3,000 rupees per month from begging. In exchange she gave Palani one set of new clothes per annum and one meal per day - which he had to cook. She did not pay for any medicines or medical help for him.
Other surgery cut off the major blood supply to his lower legs and severed the nerves so that he could not feel pain. His legs subsequently became highly infected, he had no control over his feet so could not longer walk and everything that has been tried since to save his legs has failed.
In the past three months he has been given thorough and professional testing by the best doctors in South India, he has been to see two other orthopaedic surgeons who confirm that he has gangrene and has to have both legs removed or he will die. Both legs will be amputated in a few days time on the 20th October 2005 at a private hospital in Chennai..
The moral of this story for those who care about their fellow man is as follows -
Here in India a deformed or sick child is seen as a source of income by some families and individuals. The child is given enough only to keep it alive to beg for money. This is horrifying to Western eyes, but it is part of the culture here.
If you do want to help then please try to see it through to the end. Do not just throw money at the problem and turn away hoping for the best, because in the vast majority of cases it will not happen.
I accept and know that short-term visitors cannot spend months or years following the treatment of a very sick or disabled child, but please, under no circumstances hand money over, either to the child, the parents or someone else who tells you that they are caring for the child. If you really want to help then take the child to the Rangammal Hospital and have the child checked over there. Ask them to treat the child and to give the follow-up care where necessary. You can pay for it in advance or receive a bill and then pay it.
Rangammal hospital is totally trustworthy. It is run by an English lady who has my utmost respect. The staff are very caring and totally dedicated. It is also inexpensive. They will tell you immediately if the sickness is genuine or just another rip-off; and be warned, the majority are pure scams.
Perhaps I could have done more for Palanai sooner if I had researched the possibilities properly. Perhaps his legs were impossible to save from the moment I first saw him. We will never know. Now, however, something can be done to take care of him in the future and that is being arranged.
It is important to ensure that he receives the correct aftercare and then goes to school. This should help him to develop properly and stand a chance of finding a good job in the future. Beyond that it is up to Palani. If he has the courage and strength to overcome his disability then I feel that he stands a very good chance of making something of his life.
Let us hope that God's grace will give him the means, the strength and the will to overcome this hurdle.
Update: Through the kindness of a few concerned people, we have arranged a place for Palani to live with his brother in a local home for the disabled, arranged all of the help he will need in the future to be able to walk and will pay for both his and his brother's education. We will also help to find him a job when he leaves school.
However, despite our best efforts so far, we have been unable to persuade Palani to leave his grandmother, as she has convinced him that she has taken care of him for all these years and says that he can leave when she is dead. This is not the end however, we will continue to try to persuade his grandmother to let him go.
If you know Palani and see him on the street begging, I request that you DO NOT give any money to him. By all means purchase a meal for him and make sure that he eats it in front of you. If you give him money then he will give it to his grandmother and she will continue to abuse him. He does not require any medicines or other medical care at this time and we have arranged for good quality prosthetics for him.
Palani now has prosthetics and walks without aid, but continues to beg in the streets. This is a sad case, but typical of what goes on here.
Begging is a profession and very short-sighted, especially for children who do not realise the real impact it will have on their lives.
Begging is easy money, easy-come, easy-go. Injuries to children are a good way to extract money from sympathetic westerners. Indians on the whole do not help anyone begging in the street, or will give one rupee. Westerners in their sympathy give hundreds and often thousands of rupees to anyone who asks. This only encourages laziness and bad behaviour.
Salaries here are very poor, a shop worker might be lucky to get 1,000 rupees per month for 80 hours work - the average week for shop workers and working children. A beggar can get that in ten minutes ... which would you choose?
The impact of such generosity goes on, because your kindness, or payment to get rid of an irritation just encourages them to harass other visitors, so a spiritual quest turns into a nightmare for others because of your action. For everyone's sake please desist from giving money, buy food instead.
Remember also that some auto drivers are professional scammers; they bring disabled people to gullible westerners to rip them off - the person in need will get a fraction of the money and the driver will keep the bulk.