ONE OF the children in the photograph that Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to while suggesting that the situation of Scheduled Tribe (ST) children in Kerala “was more khatarnaak (dangerous) than in Somalia”, reportedly revealed in a video that women working at the garbage yard had offered them bananas before the picture was taken.
The video has been released by the Kerala chief minister’s office (CMO) under the title: ‘The true story behind the incident of tribal children reportedly eating stale food from a waste dumping area’. In it, the boy, who allegedly features in the photograph, is heard alleging that chechis (Malayalam for older women) had first asked them (three children) to collect waste in a bag before returning with the bananas. They then allegedly handed over the fruit and then took the photograph.
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The nearly three-minute video initially has the boy describing the alleged sequence of events before his mother joins in the conversation. She claims that she found out about the incident only after “some BJP people” came to her house and questioned her on why she had not lodged her children in a (post-matric) hostel. “They didn’t say what the matter was. When I went to Peravoor (in Kannur district), people were talking about it and that is how I came to know about the incident. In the newspaper, I saw one of my sons standing with a banana in his hand while my other son was holding a waste bag,” she is heard telling the questioner in the video.
She also denied that the children were foraging for food. “They were told to dump waste at a place meant for burning it. That is why one of the boys was shown searching for something in a bag. How can they gather the waste in their hands,” she says. The mother also said that media reports that there were four children at the dump were false. “No, there were only three. Two are from this house while another is from the neighbouring house. Even if there is nothing to eat at home, we collect a few coconuts from others’ land and sell them to buy rice. We would not send our children to the garbage yard and allow them to eat from the refuse. The newspapers have wrongly claimed that when then fathers go to work, we mothers take the children to the garbage yard,” she says.
The photograph appeared in the local daily Mathrubhumi on November 4, 2015, and was subsequently picked up by local newspapers and TV channels. It showed the children in a garbage yard at Peravoor in Kannur, seemingly foraging for food. Responding to the video, Mathrubhumi reporter Nazer Valiyedathu alleged that it was made by local Congress leaders and that they had forced the mother and son “to give wrong statements before the camera”.