chilling justice

chilling justice

The baffling judgement pronounced by a local court yesterday reinforced once again the vulnerability of children in India. A little girl allegedly raped by her own father was sent back to live with him as the man was acquitted because the key witnesses (her mother and sister) turned hostile.

At the time of the rape she was 4, today she is 7. I cannot begin to think what goes on in her tiny mind and am at a loss to picture the consequences that this will have on her tomorrows. This tender soul has been raped not only by her father but by all those she could trust, her mother, her sister and above all the entire system ostensibly created to protect her: society with all its trimmings: police, legal system and what not.

What is galling and frightening are the words pronounced by the judge: The acquittal in this case is painful as a blossoming child is alleged to have been ravished by her own father. But unfortunately her mother and sister turned hostile. But what is disturbing apart from the acquittal is the fact that the victim may have to live under the same roof and in the same hands of the accused.

Is justice blind to this point?

Even if one was to play Devil’s Advocate there is not much one could proffer. The mother was vulnerable in a society that is ruthless to one who dares go against her husband. The sister had no option but say what she was told to. The mother alone could not have brought up the children alone. The judge had to go by the book and so on.

And in all this the little child was forgotten and had no one to stand by her and protect her. My mind goes back to one of our students who had been raped by a neighbour when she was 4. The man was caught, did a stint in jail and came out an resumed his life. The girl grew up and became a teenager but her past followed her: she was branded a bad girl and no one talked or played with her as she had once had been raped, never mind if she was barely 4 at the time.

My heart goes out to this little child whose childhood has been ravished and who stands helpless and alone.

The big picture – practice what you preach

The big picture – practice what you preach

When I was a little girl and things looked bad, my papa used to talk about the big picture. It was his way of explaining to his hurting child that what seemed dark and gloomy at that moment was actually a tiny part of a big picture full of colour and light that we could not see. It was his way of explaining the mystery of life, the presence of a higher Being and the reason of the fleeting woe.

The little girl was satisfied and ran off with a smile on her face. The teenager was more difficult to assuage and did turn rebellious but ultimately had to concede to its wisdom, the woman found the solace she often needed. The big picture became a part of my life and I found myself often referring to it to explain situations that defied logic.

Yet when I was dealt with a blow recently I was momentarily taken aback and wallowed in despair, giving undue importance to what was just one tiny splash of dark hue on the harlequin picture that I conveniently had obliterated. My thoughts ran helter-skelter trying to reverse the situation forgetting that time moves but in one direction. For that moment in time I had forgotten all about the big picture.

But mercifully better set prevailed. I must have given my frenzied mind a tiny break as I found myself hearing my papa whisper “look at the big picture“. I had forgotten all about it in the moment I needed it the most. We often are guilty of not practicing what we so readily preach. I remember some years back when I was trying to battle local slumlords and wondering why we had been hit by such a storm, a friend simply reminded me that one should not bang one’s head on a close door but simply look for an open window. Yet one often realises that in spite of the all the wisdom one pretends to have, one easily forgets past lessons.

I am at a crossroad I stood at before. Sadly so lost was I in my hubris that I forgot to make a simple journey into past days to imbibe lessons once learnt and draw strength from the fact that we moved on and prospered as somewhere the big picture stood strong.

I know that in spite of the gloom that surrounds me and threatens to devour me, it is just part of a big picture I cannot see but know exists. The storm will blow, the clouds lift and the big picture will once again manifest itself in all its glory. One just has to hold on.

a ray of hope

a ray of hope

Little Anisha came visiting. It is always a delight to see her sunshine smile even if it sometimes it takes some time coming. My thought went to just about a year back when we feared for her life that seemed to hold on by a breath.

But children have a way of making up for loss time and little Anisha was always a fighter. Today she looked just like any other little girl all set to start her school life and that is what she had come to do: get admitted in our creche!

It is moments like this that make everything we do worthwhile and give us the courage to carry on in spite of everything.

I wonder what the future hold for this lovely child. I simply know that beautiful morrows await her.

God bless her and walk with her.

the girl child

the girl child

India may have its first woman president but it is going to be a long time before the girl child in India gets the same right as her male sibling. What is tragic is that it is often the mother, a girl child herself, who treats her that way.

No mother will ever accept that but one just has to look at things to see the difference. The three kids in the picture are siblings, whereas the boy was dressed warmly as the morning was chilly, the little girls were sent to school in summer frocks.

I wonder why mothers react this way. One would have thought that having suffered similar humiliations themselves they would not perpetrate them and yet it is the mothers who are the real culprits.

This is one of the reasons why the theme selected for the first meeting of the women’s group at the Kamala centre was the girl child and we decided to show Matrubhhomi as we felt that it was one every woman should see particularly in a land where one the one hand women are worshipped but on the other they are used and abused!

Over 15 women attended the meeting and the issue of the girl child was debated with passion and verve. Every one agreed that something had to be done and that the girl child needed to be protected but they also accepted the fact that it would not be an easy task. They all promised to give the matter some thought and come back for the next meeting with ideas for an awareness campaign.

We know it is no mean task as the laws themselves are far from being respected. This came to light the very next day in a glaring manner: a pregnant lady, mother of two girls came to our centre asking us to keep her daughters till late evening as she worked. She also told us that the child she was carrying was yet another girl as had been revealed by an ultrasound she had done recently. Were not sex determination tests banned in our city?

You can share some of the moments of our first women meeting here

If not for you

I have been battling with myself about writing this post as I know that if I do write it with honesty and candor it may peel off some of the carefully pasted layers that has fabricated what I look like today. I thought the glue was strong and the image would withstand all storms: how wrong I was!

Sunday Januray 6th 2008 was to be a special day as after a long time my daughter had convinced me to see a movie with her and we were all set to have fun. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to ensue. The movie, the incredibly touching Tare Zameen Par, was to bring about a catharsis I was not prepared for.

As I watched mesmerised I saw my life enfolding itself and all that I had carefully buried after whitewashing and veneering it to suit myself, came back to me raw and unconcealed in ways that I had refuse to see. As the child was seen battling with letters and figures I relived the days when I too sat with a lovely little girl drumming letters and figures and not comprehending why she looked at me with huge pleading eyes seeking love and understanding. The little girl was the young woman sitting next to me: my daughter S! I saw myself as what I had been and I realised for the very first time the pain and agony my child had suffered because I had failed her when she needed me most.

It took me a long time to comprehend her and I can draw paltry satisfaction in saying that I did not send her to boarding school and did ultimately listen to her and let her follow her heart. But can I make up for all the ugly words I said to her, or all the times I stubbornly refused to hear her cries for help! As I watched the film I understood for the first time what S went through day after day, year after year as I carried on placing on her frail shoulders a burden she could not carry.

The film ended and we all wiped our tears, having each wept for our own reasons. For S it was easy to get on with her day as she finally had found a way to be vindicated, but I had more layers to shed as I knew that this was the only and last chance I had to redeem myself in my own eyes. A simple hug and a heartfelt sorry would not suffice this time if life was to go on. The flood of visible tears had dried leaving a few streaks that could easily be washed but the journey was not over, actually it has just begun.

Images from the past swarmed my mind, each needing to be reinterpreted and confronted before being dealt with and mercifully healed. S was just 9 or 10 when she told me she wanted to work with special children; was it not her way of telling me that she was one herself? It took me 5 long years to understand that and today she does just what she had always wanted with such compassion and sensitivity that my heart swells with pride each time I see her.

I remember a friend telling me long back when I was battling with trying to make S conform to accepted norms that special children were sent to earth by God to very privileged people as they were His messengers and taught us things we did not know about ourselves often giving us a chance to walk that extra mile. At that time I had pooh poohed her words so lost I was in my own hubris. Today I realise that were if not for S there would be no Project Why and I thank the heavens above to have given me the possibility to atone my wrongs. Perhaps the oft unfathomable and illogical passion I feel for my work is nothing extraordinary but simply a tiny step in a journey that still unfinished.

We as parents and adults often forget our own childhood and the pangs we suffered. What we carry as adults is our failures, and broken dreams, our unrealistic aspirations and impossible goals and then lost in the mediocrity of our lives and our refusal to accept our own limitations we simply transfer the burden on the shoulders of our children exhorting them to fulfill what we could not. So every parent even the most illiterate one wants his child to be a topper! Wonder what the world would like if everyone was just that: a topper!

And to get what we want, we do not use love, or coaxing, or kindness, we simply resort to hurting and abusing. I remember the winter of 2000 when we had just begun hesitant English classes. Some class X students had been beaten in school and we had decided to meet with the authorities and settle the issue. It was a Principal’s office worthy of a Dickensian novel and so were the protagonists. As the young boys stool in silence, the headmaster hurled a string of abuse at them likening them to gutter snipes with no hope of redemption. In the deafening silence I heard the sound of hopes shattering and took probably one of the most important decisions of pwhy as I worded a response to the taunting challenge: they would pass their examinations no matter what. They did and some of them today are finishing their college!

I realise today that were it not for S, I too would have remained silent nodding a pitiable acceptance. Since that day I have never allowed myself the luxury of not hearing! But the journey does not end there as I sit reviewing my so called adult life. Were it not for my child my life too would have been spent in shades of grey and I would have never experienced the splashes of vibrant colour that come your way when you learn to accept embrace and celebrate difference. Were it not for S, I would never have gathered the courage to walk the road less travelled and made a tiny difference.

One can never put the clock back and redress torts gone by. I guess one can easily say sorry to the ones that we have hurt, and they more often than not have hearts large enough to forgive us. What is more important is to be able to forgive one’s self as, in the words of Mary Angelou: You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self.

I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that setting up project why is not what I have conveniently chosen to believe and project to others. It is actually the slow and still unfinished process of forgiving myself. The journey continues and at each step I whisper a silent word of gratitude to the one who made it possible.

If not for you S I could not have become what I am today. You are very special!

Note: this post sat a long time unpublished. It is not easy to accept one’s failings let alone share them with one and all. But unless one does life’s journey remains meaningless!

disturbing musings

Delhi is slowly limping back to normal after a fortnight of festival and festivities. The air is gradually clearing up and the the crackers blasts are now sporadic though as ear shattering as ever. The roads on the morning after Diwali were a silent but shocking witness of the amount of hard earned money that went up in smoke and din.

There are many reasons assigned to the lore of bursting crackers on Diwali night. It is even said that that this was done to kill insects that abound after the rainy season! But today the smoke they create seems to be killing humans and not insects!

The question we are justified to ask is how does one alter or redefine mores and traditions that have gone out of sync with reality? Or rather who is empowered to do this. Religious heads? Civil society? Enlightened individuals?

Festival times is always one that disturbs me as it is one that makes us aware of the terrible and often lethal stranglehold of religious diktats. And nothing is more disquieting as the poor trying to find ways to acquire costly goodies to propitiate the gods even though their children go hungry. The belief that all hell will come loose if one fails to do so is what seems to guide this irrational behaviour.

Mores and traditions are so deeply ingrained into our lives that no matter what how hard one tries, they are difficult to dislodge. R has been working at pwhy for many years now. His daughter J has been our student since and is now in class X. She is a bright 16 year old who was all set to finish school. Last week her fate was sealed as her family found a suitable match and decided to get her married. As is always the case, her opinion was never sought. The deal was clinched and she remained a mute spectator watching helplessly as all her dreams were shattered one by one. J wanted to be a teacher! And I too stood helpless as my words fell on deaf ears: the adversary was too strong: one voice against an eternity of praxis.

My heart went out to this young girl and I silently petitioned all the gods in heaven to protect this child in years to come. More so as just last week we had to deal with another set of broken dreams. P, one of our young teachers recently married sought our help in resolving her sad plight: her husband now working for a software company and having a new set of friends found her unattractive and not up to the mark. What she wanted was to save her marriage. She like most Indian women, would not even think of leaving him though she is a well educated girl.

Traditions are so deeply embedded in our lives that the very thought of changing them is anathema. People are willing to agree with what you say till it touches their own lives. The way out is not easy, and yet it needs to be found.

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