The God to whom little boys say their prayer…

There have been many rewarding moments at pwhy, but yesterday was a very special one.

I looked for quotes to begin this post and found two by unknown writers:

” God to whom little boys say their prayers has a face very like their mother’s”

“Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me.”

Almost a year back I had to take the heartbreaking decision of separating a mother from her a child. I did as it was a step towards bringing together once again a little family that life had blown apart. The mother went into rehab and the little boy just 4 to a boarding school. Months went by and one healed slowly while the other carved himself a place in an alien world. A month from now they will be reunited for two weeks.

Uptal is what he is, because even in her darkest and most sordid hour, his mom never stopped loving him and I do not know why but I feel that it his her face that comes to him in his daily prayers. Only he was able to see her true worth passed the flaws that she did not hide.

Yesterday I went to see her in the idyllic surroundings where she now lives as she slowly makes her way into a new life. It was a joy to see her smile and to watch her long lost daughter finally rediscovering an almost forgotten mother.

It was a special moment as not many had really understood why it was so important for me to help Jhunnu turn a new leaf. Even if I were not to succeed I wanted him to know at a time when I may not have been around that I did give it my very best. I guess that in her most sordid moments only Utpal and I saw her flaws as a gift and never gave up. We have a long way to go and she is is very fragile but somehow yesterday I truly felt that we were out of the woods.

One day, I my dream comes true the little family will be reunited and strong. I just pray that I live to see the day.

a beautiful tale of two Indias

There is a little girl named Yashaswini! you can spot her in the front of this picture. She belongs to the side of the fence where everything works in your favour. She has smart educated parents, a place in a good school and everything a child needs to grow.

Saturday was a 4th birthday and she celebrated like she does every year with her very special friends: the special section of pwhy. Shalini and Manu, Umesh and Anuraag, Ruchi and Preeti and all the others. Some are over 20, others more her age but they are all different in some way or the other. Some cannot hear, others cannot talk, some can barely walk but come rain or storm they are all there with her every year.

Her mom decided some years back to give her a b’day with a difference. A day out at Delhi Haath with this motley group of children. It is time for a a ride to the place, a treat of their choice, a birthday cake and even a return gift. And then time to play like all kids do, before saying bye and see you next year.

Every one is dressed to a T though to the uninitiated it may not look to be. Even Manu who never wears shoes has donned a brand new pair. And they have played by the rules as they did not forget their gift: a nice cardboard house made by Rinky on which everyone signed!

I do not know what made Yashu‘s mom decide to bring the two Indias together for her child’s birthday but I salute her for that as I know that it is maybe one of the greatest gift she gave her child.

As they played blindman’s bluff all differences are forgotten; they are just what they are children having fun, never mind if some of them had to wait scores of years to reclaim their right to be a child.

This is a very precious moment, and only the very privileged can see its true meaning!

Happy Birthday Yashu!

In the name of all the unborn girls

Yesterday a news item caught my attention in more ways than one. A Bombay couple had challenged the high court on the ban on gender choice. They wanted to chose the sex of their third child needless to see they wanted a boy.

According to this educated couple: In their opinion to have a male child in India is better, as they say the country is not socially or economically ready to accept a female child.

The same item reminded sotto voce that 2500 girl foetuses are aborted every day! This case raises a plethora of questions and may have far reaching consequences. It is not just one isolated case that concerns a well to do family with two daughters but one in which the respondents to the petitioner are all the unborn girls of India.

A wrong decision in this case may increase by quantum leaps the 2500 foetuses that die everyday. That the petition should come from an educated family is even more disquieting as it cuts the sails out of the uphill and often impossible task of trying to convince the larger population of the importance of the girl child in any society.

Furthermore a wrong cannot be made right just by numbers and absurd equations: you can chose the sex if you have one, two or x amount of daughters. It is evident that for that family getting the right sex entails taking on a formidable adversary – nature – and may result in killing many a girl foetus on the way.

Maybe the couple in question also forgot that their chosen child will one day need a wife! It is true that even among the well endowed a daughter-in-law is looked down upon if she cannot produce that male child, but one would expect young educated couples to be able rise above this. The fact that this couple chose to seek legal absolution for such a dastardly act is even more chilling.

I hope the court takes all this into consideration and pronounces a judgement that will once for all protect the already precarious condition of the girl child in India.

Its just another day in paradise..

The last few posts have been grim and even seething so it was time for a breath of fresh air. I found myself humming a song of yore years that sprung from the recesses of my mind. Its just another day in paradise, said the refrain. And if my memory does not fail me the paradise in question was dotted with pizzas, kids screaming and phones rigging.

I let myself be carried by the mood of the song and slowly the day gone by at pwhy seemed just that kind of paradise which just like the song writer I wouldn’t trade for anything.

The morning began just like many others with the customary Namaste ma’am or good morning ma’am that have become so much part of my life that I had lost the ability of savouring. If one was shouted by a simple minded girl, the other was barely whispered by a child with severe behaviour problems; if one was accompanied by a tug at my shirt the other was said with eyes firmly fixed on the ground; and if one was shouted by a deaf girl another was murmured by a spastic child. This beautiful and unique chorus was performed on cue as I climbed up the stairs to my office on the rooftop.

As one settled in the office, on cue again came the hot cup of tea made by Amma and that brought to my mind the struggle it had been to do away with caste and creed problems over the years. Then slowly the motley pwhy crew made the climb to the top to mark their attendance, some heaved and sighed and got my normal: you should exercise a little. One after the other irrespective they came by silent witnesses of the long road travelled to weave together this incredible pattern that reflected India’s true essence. We had nomads and tribals, the lowest and the highest caste, all creeds and ages held together by the pwhy dream.

As each set out to their posts, someone remembered that the water heating rod had to be set for Manu’s bath before the daily power cut: yes the very Manu who only a few years back roamed the streets unkempt and dirty in search of food. And today was special as all the kids of Manu’s class were off to Delhi hath to celebrate the birthday of a 4 year old who since she was 1 celebrated them with these very blessed kids.

They day had begun in earnest. Someone remembered that a TV crew was dropping by to interview little Deepak’s family, yes the very Deepak whose heart was now fixed, reminding me of the laudable fact that 11 such kids had dropped by our planet.

From the ground floor came the sounds of the creche babies singing their morning wake up songs, and the hustle and bustle around me bore witness to the simple fact that a perfect paradisaical day had begun.

It was only 10 am.

The next hour saw the special kids set off in the two hired vehicles, the TV crew appear and be whisked away to Deepak’s home. Time to catch another cup of tea and plan the rest of the day. A visit to all the centres, nine in number now, a search for a room for Manoj’s mom not to forget the table that had to be yanked up all the way to the top floor as it could not go through the staircase…

Yes it truly was just another day in paradise, one that I would not trade for anything…

more on manoj’s mom

When you think you have seen it all, and feel smug in the false notion that you have created the required roadmaps, in a land where women are dispensable you are least prepared for Act II of what you believed was a one Act play with a doable denouement!

Yesterday I watched little Manoj dance and even gave my self a tiny pat in the back as memories of him flashed in my mind. A phone call brought me back to reality as I was told that Manoj’s mom 7 months into a unwanted pregnancy had landed at home with a swollen face and broken lip. The abuser was none other than her husband.

An article I recently read caught my attention as the author stated: 0ften a girl is brainwashed from infancy.. and I guess she is right, but there comes a moment when all the brainwashing and conditioning pales under the ignobility of the abuse suffered. That day the battering of her over abused body was the last straw, and the tears that welled Manoj’s mom’s sunken and anemic eyes were ones of anger and rage.

The story withheld till now poured out in chilling words, and that story was not just hers but the story of many women in India. She was barely 16, when she was married to this man, by a widowed mother who had the use of only one arm and three younger children to bring up. She had no option but to agree to the road map set for her. The rest is predictable a child before she attains the age of 17, an alcoholic man who is more abuser than husband or father. A weak child who can barely walk or stand at 2, and an unwanted pregnancy that she is forbidden to abort by the one who owns her body and soul all this laced with brutal beatings that dot her life with obsessive regularity. Days where she and her child go hungry, when rent being not paid lead to changing rooms constantly till you find yourself in an airless hole. No home to go back to, no family no friends.

You get a job and you work with a smile so genuine that even the most sensitive does not see your pain. You hide the unwanted pregnancy from fear of losing your job till it shows and you are exposed! You still try and whitewash the abuser as you have been conditioned to do but then all that was possible when there was no love and support around you. But when you see someone is listening your crushed spirit hidden in the deep recesses of your soul decides to break all the carefully built walls and set itself free.

However what are your options in a land where a single woman let alone a single parent is anathema. Where with a small child an an unborn one you have nowhere to go and are not coward enough to end your life.

Manoj’s mom is not an individual case, it is the story of many women in a land where in spite of venerating Goddesses we have forgotten the Goddess that lies in the scarred soul of each woman. And I am not talking of poor women only.

We may be able to help Manoj’s mom but the question that arises is what do you for the millions others.

Have your girl and leave her to us

My last post was a plea to ensure that existing social schemes function in this country. Imagine my utter dismay when a national daily carried an article spelling out a new initiative to fight foeticide and infanticide. This is of course after the little bones found buried near a Ratlam hospital.

The scheme aims at placing cradles in every district of India so that parents who don’t want a girl child can leave her to the care of the government. The Minister of social welfare was quoted saying: what we are saying to people is have your children but don’t kill them.. leave her to us.

I wonder how a responsible person can utter such words. The whole scheme is absurd and preposterous and would have a plethora of consequences that one cannot even begin to imagine at this moment. And I am not talking about the usual corruption and fund embezzlement.

First of all it does not address the main problem of foeticide which is the main reason for the warped sex ratio in our country. Then a scheme like this will encourage parents to abandon their baby girls even if they were in a position to rear them. We have come across families of a 9 children where the first 8 are girls! Were this scheme in place the first 8 would have been placed in the cradle.

We all know of the pathetic conditions that prevail in state run orphanages and children’s homes. Even in India’s capital city these are poorly run and overcrowded. The abandoned children are likely to suffer a worse plight than they would have in their homes. Bringing up a child requires much more than two meals a day and a bed to sleep in. A child needs love and emotional support and above all needs to be given answers about why she is in an orphanage and not with her family.

The reference by the Minister to creating a gene pool is extremely disturbing as it views these to be abandoned children as objects and not individuals. The Minister goes on to say that if the parents have a change of heart then they may take their children back, leaving the door wide open for parents to use the scheme to abdicate their duties. What is even more disquieting is that no one seems to give any importance to the psychological growth of the child who will be casted from side to side to suit the whim and fancies of irresponsible adults.

True that the figures are shocking – over 1 crore of foetuses disposed of in the last decade and a sex ratio of 821/1000 in Delhi – a solution that discards the role of the parent is inconceivable and is bound to lead to problems that may spin beyond control. The issue of the girl child has to be viewed in a different manner. She has to be reinstated as within the family and society through awareness campaigns and once again maybe by just ensuring that existing programmes are run honestly and in a realistic manner.

The government of the NCT has a programme whereby a sum of Rs 5000 is deposited in the name of a new born SC girl child to be encashed after the child has reached 18 years of age. Little Shivani is an SC child but we were unable to fill and file the required documents within the stipulated time of 90 days. However it is schemes like these that may secure a child a place in her family and not legalising washing one’s hand off them.

I will not even begin to address the social implications of such a scheme in a land where social origins are of prime importance. I will just say that a responsible government has to think about the long term consequences before shooting out absurd programmes, unless once again these are done to create one way to line greedy pockets.

cross your Ts and dot your Is mr government

In my quest to get pwhy kids and heir families the required caste and OBC certificates I set about finding out the procedure set out by our government. A quick perusal of the Delhi government website is sufficient to show that the modus operandi proposed is almost impossible to meet.

For Scs and Sts whereas the application can be signed by the local elected representative, someone that can be acceded to, the remaining papers require the signature of two class I gazetted officer, something that even i would have difficulty in finding.

In case of OBCs a new para has been added which states: I certify that to the best of my knowledge and belief that i do not belong to the creamy layer of the OBC… (para 14 of application form), However no definition has been given of the creamy layer!

It does not end here. To get a handicapped certificate you need to be 40% physically handicapped and 35% mentally challenged. Wonder what happens to those who are under! And in a city where the minimum wage for unskilled labour is about 3000 rs a month, the website states : He or she should be domiciled in Delhi for more than 5 years and their monthly income should not exceeds. 400/- and if unemployed their family income should not exceed Rs.600/

I think one would be justified to say that their seems to be a concerted effort to ensure that good schemes do not reach the true beneficiary. One would be justified in thinking that if we as civil society armed with a powerful tool like the Right to Information, set out to redress torts and ensure that existing schemes functioned this country would be a better place for all!

another tale of two Indias

I have often written about the ever widening gap between the two Indias and the almost apocalyptic aftermath it entails. One would be justified in asking whether ways exist to bridge this frightening chasm.

When pwhy began and I set out crafting it I knew intuitively that if it were to make a difference and have a spati-temporal dimension one would have to shun all government and institutional and impersonal funding and support. I realise today is hindsight that it was a yet unformulated but real step towards bridging this gap. When one decided to use only local resources be it staff or space it was one more step in that direction. When one insisted on holding on to the one rupee a day in spite of numerous false starts it was because that was another way to bring the two Indias together.

When I look at the long list of supporters I feel a sense of pride to see that so many have reached out and been there. Most of the people mentioned on that page have never met me or come to pwhy, yet they are an integral part of this effort and have helped change many lives and brighten many morrows. However a tinge of regret mars my elation as there are so few from my city and peers. Most of those who are there live far away from their motherland and yet their heart beats for her.

One may wonder why those just around the corner do not feel it necessary to reach out is a question that has disturbed me as the obvious solution was to have them come forward as they could come and vindicate our plea by just dropping by. Nevertheless now for more than 7 years many have in their own way brought the two Indias together and that is a fact to be lauded.

There are many ways to try and bridge the widening gap: like Amit you could donate blood little Nanhe, like Tima you could take some time off from coffee mornings and spend them teaching underprivileged children, like Mansi could motivate your staff to come and share some of their skills with such kids, like Rishi you could accept to take on little Utpal in your swank school and ensure he becomes an integral part of it, like Monica you could lend your professional skills, and like Malavika you could send your monthly contribution without being reminded, like Kim spend time at pwhy and write about our effort or like Sonia lend us the much needed media support to expose abusers and highlight wrong doings.

These steps may look inconsequential but they help us carry on and reach out to children abandoned by all. There are many ways of bringing the two Indias together, provided you accept that it is something that needs to be done. One cannot wish away the other India because it stands at our doorstep and no amount of money can meet their ever growing presence and new found dreams. Their patience will run out if we continue treating them the way we do and forget the indubitable fact that they are protected by the same constitution and laws than us and no second grade citizens to whom we can throw second hand goods, be it education, health or habitat.

a cri de coeur

Today’s TV news brought pictures of 390 little bones buried near a hospital in Ratlam. Experts say they are the remains of babies. Today’s newspaper reported that there were thousands of missing children in our own Silicon valley a.k.a Bengaluru!

Post Nithari, the NHRC has asked for an update of missing children in UP. A website has been launched to keep track of missing children. Many questions come to mind and find no answers. The entire administrative setup seems to have forsaken the children of India in every way imaginable.

There are another little forsaken group of missing children, those that came for unknown reasons to seek shelter at the Baba Balnath Ashram since its inception in 1975. The present lot were rescued in early December 2006 though they too seem lost in complex administrative and judicial mazes. But what about all the others that transited this hell hole for 30 long years. Some should be almost middle aged women.

Will anyone give them a voice. What will it take to get civil society to ask these disturbing questions and seek answers so that they may get the justice they deserve? We have seen many a campaign in recent months that have brought closure to several cases. However these girls are invisible, yet they too are victims of the society we live in.

It is time to wake up and redeem ourselves if redemption there is!

Continuing little Anisha’s story

Anisha lies in a hospital bed. She dropped by pwhy yesterday morning and I was shocked to see her gasping breath. The forlorn parents told me that the hospital had refused to give a date as they had not deposited 4 units of blood and in spite of the fact that the 55 000 Rs required for her surgery had been paid more than a week back.

Knowing the attitude of the AAIMS’s blood bank that only wanted relatives as donors, I knew it was time to act. I told the mother to immediately take the child to the emergency room and that i would follow.

I mouthed a silent prayer to the God of lesser beings when I reached the hospital as any delay would have been fatal. Anisha lay under an oxygen bell while a nurse was desperately tyring to find a vein on the child’s emaciated body. Anisha weighs under 4 kilos at 9 months.

The family was desperate as they were told that there were no beds in AIIMS and the child may have to be taken to Safdurjung across the road. I told them to do what was said and had to resort to what works in India: contacts. After a long trudge and many misses I located a friend doctor in another department and asked him to intervene.

Now we wait with crossed fingers and bated breath for a little miracle: that of getting a bed and a date for the much needed life saving surgery.

I later googled for the meaning of Anisha: it means continuous…