the length of a lifetime

The story of little M should send chills down every self respecting human being’s spine. The question remains: Does it? Or have we become so inured to crime against children, particularly small children, that we turn our hearts away.

Can any society that calls itself civilised allow such incidents to happen, let alone happen with license, particularly when the child in question is poor. And if they do happen can one allow the perpetrators to roam scot-free as we lose ourselves in legal imbroglios.

M or the Nithari children or even the Ghaziabad girls were one may say exceptions, but child abuse if often much more insidious. There has been lot of talk of child abuse in recent days. A recent study shows some chilling facts as to the extent of this crime that seems to be mostly perpetrated within the supposedly safe boundaries of the home.

Child abuse is by far the most heinous crime and one of the reasons why it is practised with impunity is because in most cases no one is ready to believe the child who has the courage to break the tacit code of silence. Instead of sharing the pain and alleviating it, adults are quick to rap the child on the knuckles and push her or him back to realm of the very silence she or he dared break, and thus to the hell of more abuse.

The reason for the post is two fold. One stems out of a recent incident at project why when a child shared a personal experience. The experience was difficult to word and as always with children it came out in a garbled whisper. Thankfully the teacher she shared it was sensitive and understanding and decided to come to me for advise. We soon learnt of the abuse this child had been subjected to and were glad she had broken the deafening silence she had lived in all those years. The first step towards healing had been taken.

But, and that is the second reason for this post, this is rarely the case as children rarely find a sympathetic ear when they decide to come out with the truth. A ten year old had been subjected to inappropriate fondling by someone she held in trust. The child had the courage to inform her mother hoping that at least she would believe her and act. But in spite of education and well worldliness the mother adopted the cowardly middle path and though the child was never abused again she had to live with her perpetrator for many long years.

That is the problem with child abuse as it is mostly committed by someone within the family, and often someone with authority. Breaking the silence means destroying the social balance and shattering the comfortable life one leads. It means taking sides and standing up for the child against all. It means risking to lose everything one has and somehow society has rarely stood for the victim. The hesitant and hurting child is often silenced or at best provided some half-baked protection and made to continue living under the same roof as the abuser.

Something is terribly wrong: a little child who has been abused and hurt has to pick rags for a living when what she needs is healing and love, another child is made to live long years within the same walls as her abuser because the social balance cannot be disturbed.

And even when perpetrators are caught then justice is elusive. Who knows where the Ghaziabad girls are or whether the Nithari children will really get justice, or whether little M’s abuser will pay for his heinous crime. And these are just the few cases that got reported but every day there are children who are being abused and who need to be heard.

It is for us as a society to take up the cudgels and fight this crime. What is terrible is that it is often the victim and her family who are ostracized by the very society they live in. C is 14 year old and she is a student of project why. Just like M she was raped by a neighbour at the age of 4 and suffered severe injuries that needed corrective surgery. Her abuser did some time in jail and is now free but young C still bears the stigma of that rape and is shunned by all.

Yes something is terribly wrong and we cannot look away because in the words of Herbert Ward child abuse casts a shadow the length of a life time

penhandling for a smile

I have been in the begging business for seven long years.

If you look at the word ‘beg’ you find the following synonyms: panhandle, ask for money, seeking charity, seek alms.. not very gratifying and yet that is what I have been up to. I have used every trick in my book to try and persuade people to open their purse strings and reach out to help another. I presume one could pun a little and substitute pen for pan! And if you wonder why I have been in this trade at a time when my peers play cards and attend hen parties, well simply because what is thrown in my pan somehow miraculously transforms it self in incredible smiles: the smile of a child without hope, of a child who for the first time has passed an exam, the child whose heart is now fixed…

It has been a bittersweet journey as often those who could give never did and those who could not were the most generous. These years of soliciting were replete with lessons of life, some disturbing and annoying and some overwhelming and moving.

A recent post sought help for our dear ghaziabad girls. One of the most touching offers was from someone who lives thousands of miles away and whom I have never met but feel I have always known. The reason I share this story here is that her gesture epitomises the essence of what giving means. It is easy to give when you have a lot to spare or when you get tax or other benefits such as your name on page 3! But when you give most of what has come your way after hours of toiling in spite of excruciating pain, then that gift is invaluable and cannot be matched by another.

I will just her words speak for her:

Please, please send me an address, to send money towards the girls care? As mentioned, I just received notice, that I am to be paid for a logo-design I made for a male musician’s digital music business in the USA. He expects I will have this, on tomorrow or next day.. there is enough, for lee and for the girls!! I would love to help in this way, rather than send soap and things, the money could buy them there… please let me help them? Anou, I grew up in abject poverty; wearing panties with pins because they were my older sisters, handed down to me(3rd daughter).. I looked very much like those girls in the pictures… we were homeless once, and malnourished.. we were cold in winter, and lived on fresh berries, and root-vegetables in summer…. I know the pain of poverty, hunger, and the judgement on us by our community.. one does not forget their humble beginnings, so If my few dollars, will buy a box of bars of soap, or some much-needed supplies for the girls female needs.. I would be the lucky one to do this!! I’ll be waiting for an address

What can I say but that when that gift comes, I will hold it close to my heart and send a silent prayer of gratitude for having had the privilege of receiving such a gift.

In this world where money means all, there are still are people who show us that there is something far more important called love! A lesson many of us forget..

one of a kind

Yesterday my dear friend North sent a mail sharing her panic about her son Lee whose building was on fire. I cannot go to him, I cannot hold him, nor can I send him money to replace his loss’s… we both need prayers of courage and strength..

These were the words of a caring mother and they touched my heart all I could do was pray. A later mail told us Lee was safe.

North is a special person and she has been with me in all my difficult moments holding my hand so that i would not give up. In my battle to save utpal, she stood by me like a rock. She is one of a kind and never ceases to amaze me.

So when the mail seeking help for the ghaziabad girls reached her inbox this exceptional woman cast her own problems aside and immediately offered to help.

Spirit North is one of a kind. Invisible people we often fail to see as we do not know how to open the eyes of our heart and often look for the trivial, missing the essential. It is only in the last few years when I set foot on planet why that I was able to start seeing with my heart. If planet why is vibrant and ticking today it is because of many exceptional people who have reached out when they did not need to, and more than money which seems to be the only touchstone of our era, they reached out with their love and support.

To all of you who made my dream a reality I say thank you for being there!

a bedtime affair..

Dropping by Pwhy blog has become a bedtime affair now wrote a friend all the way from China. and goes on to say: and while I know every day probably passes quite like the other, do hope to hear more abt the pwhy kids and their families on your blog.

I stand corrected!

I have often spoken about the lure of comfort zones and yet I seem to be sinking into them so Ziong mail was a wake up call and caught me once again not doing what I preach. It is true that for quite some time I have been busy remaking the world forgetting all the little miracles that quietly slip by our planet.

So time to make amends and share some of them here. I must confess that I too fell prey to the very human habit we have of blowing up stray incidents and forgetting everyday occurrences. I often give pwhy kids the example of how we as families always never fail to remind our moms/wives about the extra salt in the food that may have happened once but conveniently forget to praise her for all the other 364 days when the food was great! I too have in the past few days shared more of the sporadic forgetting the habitual.

It is true that any perception of threat, particularly when one is responsible of so many innocent lives, should be taken seriously but come to think about it these are made by cowards who rarely translate their words into action! My compulsive concern on the glaring differences between the two Indias has also taken a lot of space, though I do believe that it is something we need to address sooner than later. However this should not have led to my not sharing some of the extra-ordinary moments of life on our planet.

That we have entered our seventh year beating all odds is in itself laudable. Once gain over 400 kids will not drop out of school and this too for the seventh year running. Some will op their class, some will leave school armed with a certificate and honourable marks. More than 50 children who did not go to school will come April join the ranks of school going children instead of landing up as child labour.

Our special kids to are learning at their own speed. They had their in house designer exams and were also able to show their results to their parents. Rinky has finished her beauty course and will soon get a job, who cares if she is deaf and dumb. Moreover their stitching classes are going on well and Shaheeda and Neha even made their own party suits. Coking classes are a great favourite and last week an incredible rice pulao was made by these children of a lesser God for guests from across the sea. It was heart wrenching to see Shalini in her apron waiting for an sign of appreciation and turning all red when she got a hug from Xavier.

And that is not all Nanhe who even I had given up on is now back in class, Deepak bounces along with his new heart the days of his near death experience forgotten and his huge scar healed. Anisha and Anil will be operated upon and Sapna’s mom will finally have her prolapsed uterus fixed after 4 harrowing years.

And there is more. Planet Why had many special visitors from the world over. And in spite of our being media shy the Lok Sabha channel had a 30 minutes programme on us while NDTV came to talk to the kids about their experience in school.

We also got news of our dear ghaziabad girls something we had been waiting for for a long time.

I am glad Ziong woke me from my long slumber!


who will take up the cudgels on their behalf

I had recently written about the professor Sabharwal case and the hostile witnesses. Actually it was just yesterday. I somehow knew that it would not be long before a campaign of sorts would be launched and civil society would be shaken for its slumber. Hence i was not surprised when on prime time TV a teaser was aired where Himanshu the son of the slain professor filled our space with the heart tugging words: I see my father die everyday.

The campaign was launched and it was now only a matter of time before justice would once again be restored.

My mind travelled back to a few months when the same channel had brought onto every home across the land the faces of 50 odd little girls who had suffered hell at the hands of a saintly abuser. That night civil society was outraged and many reacted, but somehow a gnawing feeling filled me as I saw how the local police stepped in ad protectors of the abuser and ensured that the case remain within their precinct. Then a few news items as the abuser appeared in court surrounded by his vociferous supporters, and then a deafening silence.

Months have passed and one wonders where the girls are? Months have passed and one wonders what has happened to the abuser? In spite of our efforts we were not able to break the silence. A small group was set up by some of us and we also made the news as bloggers for a cause. But at the end of the day we were left high and dry without any news of the outcome of the case.

If high profile cases get mishandled then the boggling of the ghaziabad ashram case is a sure reality. I remember the girls being petrified of the possible backlash if they dared speak out. Two of them had in fact escaped their tormentor and gone to the local cops. They were just bundled in a car and brought back to their hellhole.

True that they are under the care of the local administration, but in today’s India we all know for whom the bell tolls. These girls are somewhere alone and helpless. All those like us who made promised to them have failed them. They have no one to take up the cudgels on their behalf as they belong to the wrong side of India and unlike the Nithari kids they do not even have families. Some are mentally challenged, shildren of a lesser God who seems to have forsaken them.

I am at a loss and can only carry on writing about them in the hope tat someone will hear and reach out; I can only carry on writing about them so that they remain alive on some net page and not be forced into oblivion.

Let us not forget the indubitable fact that the abuser was carry on on his horrific game for over 30 years. Wonder where all the other girls are?

one more tale of two Indias

A short news item aired yesterday showed relatives of children killed in Noida by serial killers blocking a road and protesting the slow pace of the probe.

My mind travels back to the week where the whole nation watched the nightmare of NOIDA unfold. Rewind to a few weeks earlier and one’s thoughts go to the plight of the 50 odd Ghaziabad orphanage girls waiting to be released while their abuser smirked on.

Somehow the girls seem lost in some incomprehensible labyrinth of justice and bureaucracy that mere mortals cannot reach. The mind races back to the time when one could visit them in spite of the harrowing presence of their abuser, and bring them a few moments of solace.

Now one just sits helpless and lost.

Recently we experienced the deafening furore of Ms Shetty and her tryst with the celebrity big brother. The racist remarks ultimately paid. Few months ago Jessica and Priyardhasini got the much awaited justice when voices took on their case. But those voices belonged to well educated, English speaking upmarket people and hence they were heard. They belonged to the right India, as did those that ensured that little Anant return home safely!

The Ghaziabad girls and the Nithari children do not have that luck. The voices heard yesterday were not the right ones.

Let us not forget that the true perpetrator of the crimes against the Nithari children was not the predator but the police and the administration. Today again it seems that the same game is being played.

In a few days or weeks, the tired parents will have to go back to the task of surviving and even these feeble voices will die out.

I had feared this would happen and hoped that we would see the writing on the wall and do something. My fear has been confirmed, my hope shattered.

Many heralded 2006 as the year of the rise of civil society, maybe one should add a rider: it only words in one India, the other remains unchanged.

The times they are changing.

Two Dylan songs struck a chord in me when I was a young and someone remained with me all through they years well into my old age. That was way back in the early sixties.

The Nithari tragedy brought them back as it seemed as if they had been written yesterday:

How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind


Come senators, congressmen, please head the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he that has stalled
The battle outside ragging will soon
shake your windows rattle your hall
For the times, they are a changing

and yet 44 years have passed and everything seems unchanged, seems there have not been sufficient deaths and the halls have not been rattled loud enough.

Yesterday a debate on television addressed the Nithari serial killings and related issues. A retired cop, an eminent lawyer and two political opponents engaged in a perfectly orchestrated blame game. Among the topics discussed was the issue of different rules for different people based on which side of the fence they happen to belong to.

Why debate on it when a mere glance at the audience proved that point beyond doubt. A group of people from Nithari had been invited and sat on one side, away from the rest the invisible and impregnable divide sticking out like a sore thumb.

Oh yes they debated and all agreed upon the fact that the poor had a raw deal, that cops humiliate and snubbed them, that things were not right and had to be changed. And with the necessary drama options were lobbed: change laws, amend acts, remake the world..

In the meantime more children will disappear, be abused and killed. More poor will have their rights trampled and life will go on without change. The poor will go back to their world as they have to carry surviving and the rich will find something else to debate upon.

The culprit in the NOIDA or the Ghaziabad tragedies is not the paedophile or the individual sick mind. Such people have existed since time immemorial and will always do. Come to think of it the chemicals of a brain can go wrong once in a while. Of course they need to be punished and put away.

The problem is far deeper and the responsibility lies within each one of us and not in finding something or someone to blame: be it the party in power or age old social ills. The true culprit is civil society who did not react at the appropriate moment. The true culprit is each one of us who feels that such things cannot happen to us and do not concern us. We all know how we walk away from a accident site for fear of getting involved with the police, how easily we dip in our pockets to break that tiny law that is irksome, how we throw names left, right and centre to slip out of the system in place, how we never find the time to help another, how get rid off the disturbing beggar by throwing a few coins but never dare look into his eyes, in a word how we each and every day reinforce the barriers between them and us.

We revel living in our world not realising how fragile it is. Our so called sense of safety depends on the simple fact that those on the other side have not found their voice but the day is not far when a tiny incident will unleash a force we will not be able to contain.

Every moment brings us closer to that day. In our rush to acquire material goals we are eroding the very foundation of our lives. The debate on whether there are different rules is not an intellectual one, it has to strike a chord in our very spirit and make us change our attitudes and ways. The responsibility for the NOIDA killings lies in each and every one of us and true healing will only begin when we have the moral courage to accept that.

The times they are changing and answer is blowing in the wind.

whose right is it anyway

Remember the ghaziabad girls? Some of us may have forgotten them as so many other horror stories have come our way and they have become yesterday’s news.

Yet somewhere in the dead of winter they await justice.

Their case came for hearing at the Supreme Court yesterday. One searched furiously for some news and was aghast to find out from a fleeting item on the news channel ticker that the case had been adjourned as the NHRC failed to file their report.

Something was terribly wrong. Only a month ago the plight of these girls was splashed all over the media. Today they seem forgotten and what is worse is that one cannot even get to them as they are protected by numerous government bodies and incommunicado.

The NOIDA murders are today’s news, wonder what it will be tomorrow.

And yet somehow to me their plight seems more poignant as they are alive. Their abuse was not a momentary flare of the dark side of a Dr Jekyll but the cool calculated planned action of their supposed protector. Even the mentally challenged were not spared.

The attitude of the so called organisations made to protect children is exposed here. Why did the NHRC not file their report? How much investigation, interrogation, cross-examination do they have to do conduct to ascertain what is evident to each one of us who read the story and saw the images?

It has also been reported that the National Commission for Women knew about the missing children of NOIDA six months ago. Wonder how many innocent lives could have been spared had they acted in time.

The ghaziabad girls are waiting for justice and it is time we did something to help them unless human rights differ according to one’s social origin.

A chilling thought….

How many more..

How many more children will have to be abused, mutilated and killed, how many more mothers will have to live with questions than can never be answered before we become responsible as a civil society and say enough!

We are supposed to have a law and order mechanism but what we forget is that these work only for those who have money, power or at least a vote. The parents of the dead children of Nithari did not have any of these. Migrants from other states, they came in search of work with a hope that maybe they will be able to give their children a better life. Instead they sent them straight to a horrific death.

Imagine the plight of a parent whose child has disappeared. Imagine his sense of utter defeat as he knocks at the portals of a police station and is sent away over and over again with contempt. Imagine his despair when he is told that the children of the likes of him do not exist for the so called system. Imagine the days and nights spent in waiting for a miracle that never comes. And finally imagine that closure comes with a set of clothes, a heap of bones and the realisation of the horror that one cannot begin to imagine.

Then try to envisage what that parent feels when in the dead of night and numbed with excruciating pain he realises that just a stones’ throw away another child also disappeared and within moments everyone was on their toes: policemen, politicians, admin bigwigs et al and within days the child was back home.

Welcome again to the great divide of India, one that is even more poignant in a land where democracy is supposed to protect each and every one. Have we forgotten the preamble of our constitution where we promised to secure to all citizens among other things justice, social, economic and political.

When did invisible barriers appear along the way and segregated people and marginalised some. When did our constitution get hijacked by hidden agendas and why did we just sit and watch it happen. Was it because the likes of us knew that we would remain on the right side of the fence.

Once again one’s head hangs in shame. The past months has been filled with such moments: the orphanage in ghaziabad, the little fingers for a handful of spinach, and now countless children mutilated and killed, their organs traded so that someone with money could live making some rich on the way.

2006 was the year of people power but before that power also falls prey to the great divide it, we need to act if we are to redeem the right to be worthy of ourselves. Or let me put it another way, one that maybe is better understood in our pathetic times, it is time to act now if we are to protect and secure our own future, as the day is not far when the cumulative pain and anger of those we have shunned away will rise and I know that on that day all the gods in heaven will be on their side.

a verdict of hope

The Jessica Lal verdict is out. It took a long time coming. Wonder why as she was shot in a place filed with Delhi’s own page 3.

For seven years we were almost mute witnesses to a mockery of justice where the entire system connived to save the killer who was a is said in today’s parlance well connected. Muscle and money power went to town and after six years or so those who had brutally ended a young life were set free for want of evidence!

Jessica was not a known person but she suddenly became the girl next door and somehow a city felt threatened. That is when civil society woke up from a long slumber to show its might. And it dis. Notwithstanding political connections or arm twisting of any kind, the existing machinery set out to redress a wrong and it did. Even the last ditch effort of a high profile lawyer who took the now jaded route of turning the victim into an accused failed miserably. The killer was found guilty. Jessica can now rest in peace.

This case has restored one’s faith in the judicial system but it has done more than that. It has shown that civil society is a force to reckon with. True that J’s case was a high profile one, that she had a spirited sister who refused to give up and give in. But this whole fight will come to naught if we as a society do not realise that our role goes beyond high profile cases. We today have the proof that we have the power to change things, to redress torts and thus to make a difference but with it comes to responsibility of reaching out to those who are invisible, and remain voiceless.

There are many unknown Jessicas who have been abused or killed. There are numerous families who hope for justice but do not know how to get it. There are many killers at large who are protected by the system. They need civil society to take on their cases and see that justice is done.

Let the Jessica Lal verdict be a verdict of hope, a verdict that makes us believe that things can change, one that rids us of our inertia and drives us to act. Then maybe the little Ghaziabad girls too will get justice they so deserve!