The Telegraph
Saturday , April 19 , 2014
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Robbed of vote by wheelchair

Bangalore, April 18: Santosh Menezes had been waiting for Thursday. It came and went, but the 24-year-old remained at home, sprawled across his mattress.

It wasn’t merely a vote lost, but the aspirations of a physically challenged young man to play his part in a theatre where individual choice makes up the collective bricks of democracy.

The bedridden victim of Endosulfan, the pesticide that has wreaked havoc in several Karnataka districts, had to stay home because there was no vehicle or even a stretcher to carry him to the booth yesterday.

“He wanted to vote, but we didn’t get any help to carry him to the booth less than a kilometre away,” Santosh’s father Albert Menezes told The Telegraph from Kokkada village in Mangalore today.

Kokkada falls under the Dakshina Kannada Lok Sabha constituency, which voted along with the rest of Karnataka on April 17.

“We would have taken him in a wheelchair if someone came with one,” Albert, who could never afford to buy one, added.

“There was a time when old and frail people would be carried by some volunteers or even party workers. But no one cared.”

Santosh is one of the 6,000 victims of Endosulfan, the deadly pesticide the Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation had sprayed on plantations between 1980 and 2000.

In January this year, Karnataka High Court ordered the state government to pay Rs 3,000 as monthly interim relief to each of the 6,140 victims across Mangalore, Udupi and North Kanara. Since then the victims have been getting a token monthly relief of Rs 1,200 in money orders. The rest — Rs 1,800 that was to be paid through bank accounts — was received just once, last month.

Debilitated since birth, Santosh needs assistance for everything. But carrying him, especially on this undulating stretch near the Western Ghats, is difficult. “Had I been younger, I would have carried him to the booth,” said Albert, who is pushing 62.

Santosh, who had voted in the Assembly elections last year, was keen this time, too. The mark of the quick-drying ink would have been a stamp of indelible inclusion, unlike his bedridden, affliction-induced separation.

When The Telegraph had met him sometime ago at his home in Kokkada, a village some 70km from the coastal city of Mangalore, Santosh, who communicates through frantic gestures, had conveyed how keen he was to vote.

But yesterday, he stayed at home, spread out on his mattress on the floor, watching TV.

“Since someone had to stay with him, my wife and I took turns to vote to at least fulfil our duty towards our country,” Albert said.

The father of five, a former farm labourer whose wife Gracy has sold off most of her gold jewellery to fund their son’s treatment, doesn’t know when Santosh will get to vote again. “Maybe, in some local elections.”

For now, Santosh is busy watching IPL matches. “He is crazy about cricket,” Albert added.

Karnataka voted on April 17