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A dead child, a world gone mad

By Mango Indian
Last updated on: September 04, 2015 15:33 IST
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If Aylan Kurdi was a Bangladeshi boy on the border with Assam or West Bengal, would you call him an infiltrator, asks Mango Indian.

IMAGE: A refugee pulls a boy inside a train through a window at the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary. Photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

I can't watch those photographs of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi's body on a Turkish beach. I avoided him, though the links to his story -- from Syria, drowned with his mother and five-year-old brother trying to get to Greece -- kept appearing on my screens for about two days.

But when I picked up the newspaper from the floor groggy in the morning, those images blew a hole through my heart. Like the feeling I had when I cut a little bead-encrusted band from my daughter's wrist when she was two months old. Maybe her biological mother -- as adoptee parents we don't know her, we cannot by law -- thought it would protect her. It did, but it could have failed too.

The migrant crisis -- and debate -- raging across Europe is of proportions not seen since World War II. The civil war in Syria, sparked by years of drought and a dictator who didn't care, and the Islamic State's brutal and obscene march through an Iraq abandoned by America, have thrown a migrant wave towards Europe. Aylan's lifeless body might just push the EU into accepting more refugees.

Meanwhile, we in India have been dehumanised to the massive movement of dispossessed people within our country. We are used to children begging at traffic stops, to stories of dead newborns gnawed by rats.

A leader of the far-right UKIP, the largest UK party in the European parliament, said Aylan was fed and clothed, and died because of his parents' greed for the good life in Europe. Or words to that effect, which echo what we urban 'middle class' Indians often feel about roadside dwellers: Why did they have to come from wherever they are from? They wanted the good life in the big city. Why do they have to breed? Isn't parenthood a privilege meant for those with enough money?

Aylan's family was fleeing the Islamic State; Turkey, which reportedly treats Syrian refugees badly, would not give them an exit visa; Canada wouldn't accept them as refugees. An overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands of people risking -- and often losing to -- death to cross the seas into Italy or Greece, and then onwards wherever they can get some dignity, are fleeing Syria. Others are from equally war-ravaged countries: Iraq, Libya, Eritrea, Sudan, even Afghanistan.

Asia is also facing its own migrant crisis. Thousands of people keep setting sail on the Bay of Bengal, mostly from Myanmar and Bangladesh, in rickety human smugglers' boats that often sink or get lost. More than 100,000 such people have tried to get to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia since 2014, and the UN has warned that fresh batches are expected when the rains get over and the seas calm.

The global migrant crisis is fed by hunger, driven by oppression, and boosted by lack of a future in large swaths of this planet. But as a brilliant post that struck out the word 'migrant' from a BBC news report and replaced it with 'people' -- wherever it occurred in the report -- explained, ultimately it's a humanitarian issue. It's a global crisis that will keep playing out in varying scales.

If strife is test of character, humanity has failed because faced with a global flood the people on dry land have chosen to close their gates. Throughout history, human beings have risked all to look for a better future for their children. Few with passports, many without. You can rationalise it and, of course, enforce it, but a border is a human construct. Someone drew an imaginary line and called it a country, or state, or town, or city.

And there's no end to drawing borders, between India and Bangladesh, between South India and North India, between Maharashtra and UP, between your gated community wall and that slum beyond.

Germany has said it will accept 800,000 refugees this year. We have people who are frothing at the mouth about a Muslim takeover of India even though census on census data shows the Muslim growth rate is declining.

If Aylan were a Bangladeshi boy on the border with Assam or West Bengal, would you call him an infiltrator?

Demographers point to an exodus of people from India's villages to the cities, which are bursting at the seams. The Maharashtra NGO we adopted from told us that many abandoned children are of 'migrants' from villages to the towns, from towns to the cities.

Meanwhile, alarm signals from the villages -- the reason why millions of people live in subhuman conditions next to first-world luxuries -- are lost in the neon and chrome of next big dam India.

We have Kashmiri Pandits, refugees in their own land. We are now even banning and hounding people who try to highlight stories from the Mahan depths of our country. And there are no dead Aylans washing up ashore, only eyes from beyond the car window at the traffic light. Eyes we have long evolved to ignore.

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