Customs and traditions are an integral part of a community. It is with these customs and traditions that a specific community can be identified with. But what happens when these ancient customs leads to killing people? And what happens when these people are kin related? How is the present world going to react to such a practice? One such custom that makes people to have Goosebumps is ‘Thalaikoothal’, practiced in a few villages of southern Tamil Nadu.
Thalaikoothal is the traditional practice of ‘senicide’ (killing of the elderly) or involuntary euthanasia by their own family members. ‘Thalai’ means head while thalaikoothal means bathing. If a person in Tamil Nadu says ‘Maine apne bhai ka thalaikoothal kiya'(I have done my brother’s thalaikoothal) it means that he has killed his brother.
The process of thalaikoothal remains simple though people assume that there are twenty six different ways of doing it. The elderly person is given oil baths early in the morning and then made to drink glasses of tender coconut water followed by tulsi juice and then milk which is a customary pre-death drink. This results in renal failure, fits and cardiac arrests, thus leading to death within a day or two. This technique might also include a head massage with cold water which lowers the body temperature causing death. This is no random act of extermination but a well oiled death ritual provoked by poverty and abetted by custom in which the relatives remain standing during the act chanting ‘kasi’ ‘kasi’. In some cases hard pieces of food is forced down a resistant individual’s throat causing them to choke to death. And even as the preparation for the thalaikoothal is under way, families actually start arranging for the funeral anyway.
The most astonishing fact is that while performing an act like this the victims ‘consent’ is never asked as they are either terminally ill or almost in an unconscious state. An article published in The Hindu mentioned that the ‘decision to snuff the life out is mostly taken by the immediate family, though others also play part at times.’ The right to decide are as 33% sons, 22% son-in-laws, 17%daughter-in-laws,10 %daughters,6% relatives,4% neighbors and 8%others.
In a survey conducted in Madurai, Virudhunagar and Theni district of Tamil Nadu revealed that 49% of the respondents did not want their parents to suffer during old age and performed ‘thalaikoothal’. 34% respondents claimed situations where there was no scope for improvement in physical or mental condition of the elderly while 23% respondents cite poor economic conditions. But social activists assume that there might also be poverty issues. There has also been cases where other factors play their role. “In one case at Theni district, a son has killed his father so that he could join government service”, says the study.
The villagers don’t like to mention much about this illegal practice for their fear of getting caught. Though an old man in an interview mentioned how a school friend of his who was too weak to walk was killed by giving a lethal injection.”Aajkalbtoh doctor injection lagwa deta hain”(nowadays the doctor gives an injection). The people now-a-days bribe a doctor to perform this illegal practice who later also helps them with a false death certificate mentioning the cause of death to be ‘natural’. The old man recalls when he was young a pit was dug and the victim was buried alive. Some say that this practice, though under wraps is more prevalent now than the old time. Greater employment as well as poverty can be a reason. With greater employment it makes for people to take care of elders. Before, there would be someone at home to take care of the elders. This leads us to wonder are we so busy with ourselves that the life of those also nurtured us has become a burden ? Moreover where are the ethics gone? The government is still trying to investigate to put an end in this life kicking tradition.