Bartering good behaviour for an evening outing is familiar trade to children. “If you promise to be a good girl, I’ll take you out in the evening.” To the adult eye, there is little promise or excitement in the outdoors — it is predictable to a great extent. — something we take for granted. For children, however, being outdoors symbolises having a slice of the real world — as promising as a cone of ice cream. Be it a walk to the nearby park, or a visit to the neighbourhood store, going out, for them, amounts to venturing into a less-explored territory.
But how safe are Chennai’s roads for children? Hardly, if reports of recent accidents are anything to go by. In fact, it would be an understatement to say that roads, with criss-crossing vehicles and vanishing pedestrian spaces, are unsafe. This, coupled with growing evidence of negligence on the part of adults, presents a further frightening picture for the young ones.
On July 25, six-year-old Sruthi fell through a hole in her school bus and died, in Mudichur. Less than a week later, Sanjay, barely two, came under the rear wheels of the school van that had come to collect his siblings. All he did was come out to wave goodbye to his brothers. On August 4, Latchaya, seven years old, died on the spot when a speeding lorry knocked her down when she was crossing the road near Tambaram. And early in the morning on Thursday, a four-year old boy was knocked down by a goods autorickshaw in Chromepet.
Little would have these children known that the big world out there could be so dangerous and strikingly insensitive to citizens their age. By habit, they would have begun their day with absolute faith in adults and the adult world. They are not old enough to comprehend negligence, irresponsibility or carelessness. Therefore, the trust placed on adults is genuine, complete, and, to a great extent, blind. When a little boy holds his mother’s hand and walks along the road, he firmly believes that no danger can befall him. For a little girl playing in the park, an occasional glance at her grandfather sitting at a distance and watching her is the ultimate source of security.
But when you see motorists with five children packed on a two-wheeler, or a woman holding an infant while riding pillion — one arm around the child and the other holding on to the vehicle, or children virtually falling out of packed autorickshaws, or buses and vans knocking them down, one wonders if adults are really worthy of the trust placed on them.
It is easy to pass on the blame when such mishaps take place — parents blame the school, school blames the transport company — but don’t we owe an answer to kids who trust us blindly? Do we have the courage to look them in the eye and give an explanation? Even though kids, being kids, seldom seek one.