Speech Melba | Columns

This is warfare, not welfare

A little less hypocrisy and a little more understanding of real child rights can come handy

Last December, when winter was at its most severe in North India, 104 infants died in a government hospital in Rajasthan. Investigations found that several infant incubators were not working, windowpanes were broken, and there were even pigs roaming on the premises.

104 infants died. In a government hospital. There were headlines, there was outrage, there was political finger-pointing. I don’t, however, remember any anxious pre-teen writing precociously to the highest court flagging the deaths. Nor do I remember the courts taking suo motu cognizance of the deaths.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, a four-month-old baby who had been at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh where his mother Nazia was protesting with other women, succumbed to a chill he caught in the bitter cold. Lo and behold, there has emerged from the woodwork an entire army of child welfare enthusiasts. A 12-year-old has dashed off a letter accusing both the protest organisers and the infant’s parents of not protecting the infant’s rights. And on Monday, the Supreme Court took suo motu notice to ask how an infant could go to a protest site. “We have highest concern for children, and they should not be treated badly,” said the court.

The Sanghi army has risen in a chorus of maternal solicitude, demanding stern action against mothers who drag infants to protest sites. ‘How dare she!’ they fulminate. When all they should do is read the story of Rani Lakshmi Bai on that supremely patriotic website called hindujagruti.org, which has a painting of the Rani fighting on horseback with her son Damodar tied to her, and the words, ‘Such an extraordinary lady, who tied her son on her back while fighting the battle, will not be found in the history of the world.’

Instead, they shriek, ‘Irresponsible parenting!’ And modern young women ask why the infants weren’t left behind, or the husbands asked to babysit. I smote my forehead. But of course! All that these wealthy women need do is hire a nanny. Or find a crèche. Or tell their woke husbands to look after the baby while they dash off in high heels to Shaheen Bagh for a cuppa and biryani with the gals.

For such progressive people, here are some facts, in very easy prose: these are women whose very identity as citizens is at stake. They have been at the site for weeks on end — this is the 63rd day of the protest. They simply don’t have the luxury of finding alternative childcare. Entire families have abandoned home and hearth and basic comforts to fight the astonishingly discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act and they are not about to stop anytime soon. And that means they have to bring aunts and grandparents and babies to the site, so that they are all together, taking care of one another as best as they can. After all, this country isn’t exactly looking after their interests, is it?

I would love our learned judges and our zealous Sanghi compatriots to visit a construction site one day or accompany a family of rag-pickers on their rounds each morning. I would love to see them expound child welfare to a migrant labourer who has two children playing by the roadside and an infant sleeping in a hammock made from an old sari tied to a tree branch, as she trudges back and forth with stone chips on her head. I would love for them to visit the pavement dwellers of New Delhi huddled every winter night in shanties, babies all around them, warmed by nothing more than tiny newspaper fires. Not to mention domestic workers whose one request often is to bring their infants to work because there’s no place to leave them.

This is not negligence; it is desperation. And that is exactly the state of mind of the mothers who are turning up at Shaheen Bagh day after day. This protest is not a luxury that they can opt out of. It is their very future.

Every pundit out there pontificating on child welfare to a mother who is mourning her dead infant should either be able to show that no desperate mother anywhere in India ever carries her child to work or to market or to the hospital where her husband lies dying. Or they should simply shut up.

Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 5:56:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/on-shaheen-bagh-and-the-understanding-of-real-child-rights/article30819207.ece

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