Thalaikoothal: A Heinous Custom To Kill The Elderly
Thalaikkooththal is the traditional practice of senicide (killing of the elderly) or involuntary euthanasia, by their own family members, observed in some parts of southern districts of Tamil Nadu state of India.
Thalaikoothal is no random act of extermination, but a well-oiled death ritual provoked by poverty and abetted by custom.
It’s said that invalid elders are given a final oil bath and forced to drink tender coconut juice, followed by tulsi juice and then milk (a customary pre-death drink), with the relatives standing around chanting, ‘kasi’, ‘kasi’. In some cases, even hard pieces of murukku (a savoury) are forced down a resistant individual’s throat, causing them to choke to death. In fact, mud mixed with water is also used, with hopes that the watery Hemlock would cause indigestion — brutally fatal to an already compromised body. And even as preparations for the Thalaikoothal are under way, families actually start arranging for the funeral anyway.
Unfortunately, the victim’s ‘consent’ isn’t an issue as they are either terminally ill or almost unconscious and the community takes the decision on their behalf.
Did you know that an oil bath followed by tender coconut juice, a coolant, causes the body’s temperature to fall to 94 to 92 degrees F from the normal 98.4 degrees F? It can even cause an electrolyte imbalance, creating havoc in the body’s metabolism. In fact, it may also lead to a cardiac arrest.
Even though the truth behind these deaths can be brought to the limelight by the better investigation, they are almost always signed off by a certifying doctor as death due to natural causes — old age in their cases.
Some say that though Thalaikoothal is practiced under the wraps in fear of being caught, it is more prevalent now than ever before, citing greater employment as one of the reasons. They say that in the earlier times, there would be someone at home to take care of the elders.
Whereas now, since everyone in the household is employed; taking care of the elderly has become a burden.
This leads us to wonder; are we really that busy with our own lives that the lives of those that sourced ours have become such a big burden that we won’t hesitate to kill our responsibilities, hidden under the mask of mercy? Do we have that right?