Faith, fetters and freedom

It took a tragedy to shake some people up to try and integrate traditional faith healing and modern clinical practices to help the mentally ill. But this is too little too late.

Srivelayuthapalayampudur – the name of the village has more syllables than even someone with conversational ease in Tamil can manage. It lies in the shadow of the Palani hills in Tamil Nadu. At first glance it is no different from the myriad other villages that dot the landscape of rural India.

It is a fine mid-morning in January, a week before the pongal harvest. A schoolboy whips a discarded bicycle tire down an alley in the enduring amusement of the hinterland. At the community well, young girls, their hair oiled and braided, skin seasoned with turmeric paste, dexterously balance heavy head-loads of water. A woman flattens spherical cakes of dung onto the walls of her home to dry in the scorching sun. A scared rooster scampers out of the way of an oxcart, returning with its modest harvest. Except for the dish antennae protruding out of a few roofs, this could be the timeless India of the imagination.

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Himal Southasian