When we arrived at their home, siblings Asanthakumari (17) and Asanthakumar (19) greeted us with warm, welcoming smiles. From time to time, they will tease each other, sharing inside jokes and laughter.
But behind those big smiles and chuckles is a childhood no child should experience. When their mother was pregnant with Asanthakumari, their father left and she remarried twice. She had another child, a boy, from her second marriage but none from her third.
Their stepfather from their mother’s third marriage was a drunkard who would misbehave and become violent when he was intoxicated. He would break things around the house like the chairs and television, and hit and shout at the children.
To fund his alcohol, he took things from the house to sell, including Asanthakumar’s bicycle and half of their land that could have been used to cultivate food and generate income.
Asanthakumar could no longer tolerate the situation so he asked their stepfather to leave. Their mother left too, leaving the siblings and their younger brother with their grandmother. Some people in their community have teased them, saying that they have been abandoned by their mother.
“I’m not scared when he hits me, but I cannot bear to see him hitting my younger siblings,” said Asanthakumar. His sister added: “We suffered a lot, but I feel safe because my brother is with me. He is my protector. He is loving and kind. I am thankful to have him.”
Left to fend for themselves, Asanthakumar stepped up as head of the household. He dropped out of school to work odd jobs and is currently taking care of livestock and selling milk. With no means of furthering her education, Asanthakumari stays home and takes care of the family. She spends her time cooking, cleaning, washing and maintaining their garden. But she has dreams of becoming the first policewoman in her village “to protect children and punish those who commit crime”.
As for older brother Asanthakumar, he vows to never drink alcohol and waste his life. He wants to work hard so that he can have his own cattle farm and paddy field, and wants to build a good house to give his family a better life.