“My husband initially worked with my father but due to a dispute he threw us out. Then, my husband, two children and I were on our own,” she revealed. “He started working at the Aavin Milk Cooperation and I too started looking for work.”
With corruption at all levels, she paid Rs. 1500 to get work as a substitute manual scavenger.
"I would pick up shit with my hands and put it in a basket that I had bought with my own money. There was no equipment."
She would work as daily wager on some days and on the others she would break her back at a construction site, all this for Rs 5-7 per day.
“I would work for all seven days from 5:30 in the morning till 9 at night, all the hard work seemed worth it as our children slept with a full stomach” she said teary eyed.
When asked about why she had to sell off her kidney for money, at first she was stunned at the question. She was reluctant to talk about this, but finally said that it was not sold but she had ”donated” it to her ailing brother, who was no more.
With this she lowered her eyes and went to the kitchen to make tea.
With this obvious discomfort in the room, her daughter, who lives with her parents due to an ongoing divorce case, said,
“My parents have tried providing us with everything despite all odds. They have had a very difficult life. The society and the rich have not made it any easy even now.”
Her daughter took over the conversation from her mother when she spoke about the time their family had shifted to “Scavengers Quarters”, a small but clean locality for daily wage laborers. She went with her brother to a local school nearby.
But soon they were “evicted” from their house as they were in debt. The family moved to a waste land. They had to struggle a lot as their workplace and the school were both far from the area and a lot of money was spent travelling.
Despite the money crunch, the daughter admitted that her mother had always encouraged her to study further and never discriminated between her and her brother.
“When everyone in the family advised against my higher education because of lack of money, my mother was the only one to support me. She wanted me to study, take up a job and earn well,” the daughter said.
“Today I am the only woman in the family to have a Post Graduate degree in Computers."
"I was employed in the accounts section of a construction company till I moved back to my mother’s house. My financial and social independence has also helped me walk away from an abusive marriage. I am no burden to my parents because of money.”
“Amma wants me to give my son a better childhood than what she had given me, but I have no complaints at all. My son’s mother can never be as strong and bold as mine and I am thankful to God for this.”
The government, only after a few months, had given them patta for the waste land they were residing at. They sold the land to pay off their debt and acquired their house back.
After much convincing and requesting, the mother finally agreed to speak about her kidney “donation”.
“After the birth of my children, we had medical and some other payments to make urgently, so we took a loan of Rs. 10,000 at a huge interest. Every month for two years we were paying the amount,” she said, all through fiddling with her fingers.
They realized that to pay the principal amount of the loan plus the interest was not possible with their income. No one was willing to give them another loan. While both had government jobs, an advance or any help from any sort of Manual Scavenger Association did not come their way. All attempts to ask the bank also failed due to corruption.
“Selling my kidney for a good price was the only way out of the hefty loan. It was anyway better than selling my body,” she said as she cradled her grandson to sleep.
Cradling her grandson before her next shift
They contacted a person who had earlier in the same year sold his kidney for Rs.18, 000. He, through some contact, put her in touch with the family who needed a kidney and were willing to pay Rs 25,000 to her.
“The amount was too big to say no to. We had to pay the kandhuvaddi (money lender), otherwise anything could have happened. There was an incident with my fellow worker where they had taken her daughter and sold her off. I wouldn’t have let that happen to my children, never,” she added.
“I went to a hospital in Salem and pretended to be the patient’s relative."
" I was scared but I thought everything was for our family’s own good. As soon as it all ended, I took the money and cried throughout the journey back home. We paid back the full amount,” she revealed.
“I was free of debt and my family was safe, but at what cost?”, she exclaimed tearfully.
Currently she is working as a sweeper and has a permanent job of Rs 15,000 per month.
She claims that though many toilets have been built and sanitation has improved over the years in Dharmapuri, basic equipment like gloves, bucket and proper brooms are still not provided to cleaners and sweepers. Her work place is understaffed and so she has to work two shifts, 6 am-11 am and from 2pm-5pm.