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A Ganesh Nadar in Tirunelveli
What is the price for the eye of a 9-year-old?
June 26, 2008
The little girl lay in bed, her hands clenched over her eyes. Repeated pleas by her parents had no effect. She kept hiding her face. When all the noise subsided, she gently raised her hands and looked around.
She had applied so much pressure to her face that her cheeks and forehead were red. When she looked up, she had the dazed look of a nine-year-old waking up from sleep. Both her eyes looked normal.
But looks are deceptive, because the child is blind in one eye.
January, 30, 2007: Sudali went to school as usual. She was in the third standard at the TDTA school in the Manapadaiveedu village, Tamil Nadu. That day she wasn't particularly attentive in class, hence, according to her, the teacher Vijaykumari threw a stainless steel glass at her in anger. The glass hit her in the eye.
Sudali told her parents what had happened in the evening. Her father Thangapandi took her to the teacher and demanded an explanation. The teacher took them to her husband who is a Siddha doctor, who also teaches at the Government Siddha College in Palayamcottai.
Dr R Devarajan, the teacher's husband, gave the girl medicines and advised them to go to the Arvind Eye Hospital in Tirunelveli.
The next day, they went to the Arvind Hospital where they were advised by the doctors to come after a week as the eye was red and swollen, hence could not be inspected. Sudali was given medicines for relief.
The girl's parents Thangapandi and Mupadari claim they showed the hospital report to Dr Devarajan. He assured them that he would cure the girl and they need not go back to the eye hospital.
Seventeen months passed -- when a friend of the family noticed that Sudali was squinting he asked them to go back to the Arvind Eye Hospital. The hospital conducted some tests and gave a report which said: 'Retina permanently damaged, badly damaged, and detached from the rest of the eye.'
On hearing this, the parents petitioned the collector of the Tirunelveli district. He asked the Chief Education Officer and the National Society for Blindness Control to investigate the case.
The brief was clear: The CEO had to find the truth of the matter and the Society had to discover if the girl's eye could be saved.
In the meanwhile, a Hindu outfit took up the girl's case. A teacher at the school alleged, "The Hindutva brigade does not like this school because we are a Christian institution."
The Madurai-based People's Watch and a human rights group sent its representatives to the school. The Hindu group left the scene after it saw that the local panchayat president had been called to mediate by the school.
The teacher Vijaykumari, accused of hurling the glass, claims, "I cannot remember what happened 18 months ago. I definitely did not throw a glass at her. She might have hurt herself somewhere. My husband treated her, so what? That does not mean I hit her. My husband treats everyone in this village. He is a doctor."
She was ready to pay compensation to the girl. "I am doing that because it is a humanitarian issue. That girl is my student. A very good student," she replies.
She then shows us Sudali's notebook and examination paper of April 2007. The girl had scored 51/100. Her handwriting was good. It did not appear to this correspondent to be the writing of a girl blinded in one eye.
The girl's parents insist that the teacher hurled the glass at their daughter, a charge Vijaykumari continues to deny. She has told them, 'You should have come to me before going to the press. You have defamed me throughout the state and now you want me to pay you, first go and clear my name.'
Thangapandi said he would withdraw his petition to the collector if he was suitably compensated.
Vijaykumari, the teacher, has two sons. One is in the final year of medical college; the other in the third year. She looks devastated at the effect the media campaign has had on her life.
Dr Devarajan, her husband, took a different stand. He told rediff.com, "I never saw the girl 18 months ago. I saw her five, maybe ten days back. They came and told me that her eyes were hurting. I told them to go to the Arvind Hospital. The hospital advised surgery. I told them it was worth a try, but there was no guarantee."
While the teacher admits that her husband did treat the child, the doctor denies it. While the hospital report does not mention lens replacement, it mentions the damaged retina.
Says village Panchayat President Chellathurai, "Let us not now debate whether the teacher hit her or not. Today the girl's parents want compensation. The teacher is ready to pay. All we have to do now is fix an amount that is satisfactory to both."
What is the price you pay for the eye of a nine-year-old?
Sudali is curled in bed in her small hut which has no fan. Flies swarm over her body but, unaware she continues to sleep.
In the days ahead, her parents will get the money, but Sudali has paid the price.
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