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A few days back a young friend was sharing his dilemma about shifting homes. He lives in one of the what is known as ‘posh’ colonies of South Delhi and has a floor in one of the stand alone houses which are the hallmark of these colonies. I live in one too. His wife wants to move to a satellite town, in one of the self contained upmarket gated communities. My first reaction was instant horror! I would never give up my rambling and even crumbling home for the most luxurious apartment in a gated colony. Gosh it is like living in a gilded cage. But as the young man started stating his case I realised his wife’s concerns and even understanding them. I still would not move a toe out of my home but then I am an ageing woman with grown up kids and a grandson that lives thousands of miles away. The young woman in question is a mom to young children, one about the age of our resident ‘imp’ at the Yamuna centre.

The young mother’s concerns are many but can be resumed in a single word: safety. The present location of her home is ‘unsafe’ for her children. They have to breathe fumes of the constant traffic; cross busy roads to get to a park to play; drive miles to get to a pool or simply to school. In a gated community all the child needs to do is take a ride in the elevator. The world is literally at her feet.

I could not help but think of my little imp and of her ‘house’. It looks like the one painted by one of her school mates in this picture. Thatched structure as the law does not allow the ‘poor’ a single brick on the flood plain – that is only the prerogative of the rich who can build temples and sky scrapers -! The agricultural labourers who tend to the vegetable fields in the flood plains can only have these flimsy structure where a spark can set a fire and snakes can lurk in the straw of the walls. And when the river is in spate and the fields are flooded the families move on higher grounds tucking whatever they can of their homes under their arm: often the precious blue plastic sheet and a few belongings. The rest has to be procured again when the water recede and the home can be erected till the next rain sweeps it away. I wonder if little Preeti’s mom can have the luxury to worry about the safety of her child. I guess it is better she did not as the dangers that lurk are unimaginable: snakes and bees; contaminated water replete with bacteria of all shades and hues and heavy toxic  metals thrown in the river with alacrity and impunity by the likes of us. The poison seeps into the very ground these children run on. In the case of this mom ignorance is bliss. If she had an iota of knowledge she would take her children and run. But where to?

The family had to ‘run’ from their ancestral homes as not only did they not have any means of sustenance but they had the misfortune of ‘belonging’ to the wrong political party, and I use the verb ‘belong’ with utmost confidence.

Feudalism has not died in India. It has simply changed feathers! Gone are the feudal lords and enter the politician. Just as the erstwhile feudal lord who needed hands to work his land, they too need ‘hands’ to clap at their rallies and shout slogans. The feudal master fed and cared for his brood; the political master hands out a few coins and unlike his predecessor, leaves you in the lurch to fend for yourself and your loved one when the battle is lost. What no one realises is that predators lurk and target those who dared cheer for the opponent. So you run. Just as the families of our Yamuna centre did and you hope the hounds will lose your scent.

You build your life again having only Nature to contend with and you learn to survive again. But your scent never leaves. It is called ‘poverty’. One day it will be picked up again by the new lords who will make you run again. I wonder when the land these brave people till will come into the eyes of the politician-builder duo duly blessed by the bureaucrat ready to do what is needed. So more than the river there is a larger danger looming.

Apologies for this digression. But it has to be said.

Let us get back to the topic: safety of children! How easily we identify the slightest element that may endanger our child but then why do we not have the same attitude to the multitude of children that come our way when we step out of our ‘safe’ homes. Have we ever bothered to give a thought to the dangers they encounter every minute of their tender life. I am talking of the child that knocks at your car window at every street light. Have we ever thought of how she weans her way in the dense traffic? And when she sleeps under a bridge what does she breathe: toxic fumes. I guess you get the idea. The child that works at a tea shop, a brick kiln or even in your neighbour’s home have we ever bothered to look at her the same way as we do when we think of our own.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: the test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.

I do not think we fare well as a Nation.

Makes me hang my head in shame.

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