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Kerala mom alleges isolation, harassment after complaining about abusive practices at therapy centre

Our Story of the Week comes to you from Trivandrum, where a mother alleges she is being harassed by local-level government officials as well as parents for highlighting abusive practices at a private therapy centre.

When AY, who does not wish to be identified, reached out to higher government authorities to draw attention to the abuse that teachers and staff at a private therapy centre were inflicting on her disabled son, little did she know of the harassment and isolation she was in for.

AY claims to have witnessed the abuse in October 2018 when her son, who is six years old, refused to eat. "My son was being stubborn, and the teacher forced into his mouth the rice that had fallen on the floor, that too outside the bathroom. I went near to stop it, but two other teachers asked me to move out and continued to feed him. Soon after, my son experienced vomiting and diarrhoea, and had to be taken to the doctor".

The incident has been corroborated by another witness, also a mother, who also wishes to remain anonymous. "My child goes to the same centre and this incident did take place. The child refused to eat and when the food fell on the floor, the teacher fed him that food. And this was just outside the toilet".

AY says that when she tried to file a formal complaint with school authorities, it brushed aside as proper therapy. She persisted and went to the Block Program Officer. When that failed to attract any reaction, she approached several state government bodies, like the State Samagra Siksha Abhiyan in Nandavanam, District Siksha Abhiyan, the Disability Commission and Child Welfare Commission.

"I know that an enquiry was conducted but until now no further action has been taken", says AY. The worst of it is that AY's son has not been able to go to the centre for the last four months, and other parents have not shown any support.

For the past four months, my son is lagging. The three teachers responsible have been kept away from the centre for one month because of my complaint and this has caused difficulty to the other parents bringing their children there. This has made them turn against me. At a recent meeting held to discuss future activities, all the parents present behaved badly with me, even abusing me. - AY, Autism parent

The incident highlights the larger problem is dealing with institutional abuse. "Few parents are willing to speak up", points out S*, who is a part of the parent teacher association at the Trivandrum centre. "Most parents think teachers are like gods and even when I tried to speak in AY's support, I was shouted down. Since then I have been shut out of meetings".

Incidents like these, says Seema Lal, Co-founder, TogetherWeCan (TWC) point to the need for a system to be set in place. TWC is a support group of parents and special educators who are batting for a change in the way such centres are run.

"What has happened with this mother is the plight of several mothers who take courage or rather out of sheer desperation raise their voice against abuse of their child. What follows is isolation and traumatizing of the person who raised the issue", says Lal.

After much delay, the Kerala government recently released draft guidelines that lay down some system of monitoring private therapy centres. High time to bring in some transparency, accountability and basic ethics in the disability sector.

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