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This article was first published 9 years ago  » News » Pravasi Special: The forgotten souls of India

Pravasi Special: The forgotten souls of India

By Aseem Chhabra
January 09, 2015 10:02 IST
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Can India really succeed when it leaves some of its underprivileged so far behind that they simply do not matter, asks Aseem Chhabra.

As India gears up to honour its pravasis on January 9 to mark their contribution in the nation’s development, presents perspectives from eminent writers on the Diaspora.

Earlier in this series:

A look back in anxiety
The coup that changed India's Diaspora policy
Friends of India
The India I want to see
'India has stayed in my blood'
Bharat Mata and her children

Years ago, when my son was a young child, we were in a car in Delhi, waiting for the traffic light to change, and he looked out at the little street urchins begging. Our car windows were rolled up, so there was a partition between us and the street kids. 

“Where are their mommies and daddies?” he asked, astutely aware that it was not safe for little kids to be roaming on the crowded roads of Delhi. 

“Why are they not in school?” I saw a real sense of concern on my son’s face.

“They are poor kids,” I finally said. “They can’t afford school. Their mommies and daddies are sitting on the side and watching them.”

I am not sure if I convinced him. I do not remember him raising the issue again. 

But his words and my explanation stayed with me and I still think about that conversation each time I am being driven around on the roads of Delhi.

They walk up to you, their hands held forward, their desperate faces or their words asking for money. 

Or they will be selling single roses or cloth dusters to clean cars. 

When I see them approaching, I roll up my window. I am avoiding their shame, my embarrassment. And I look away, a typical upper middle class attitude.

I have raised the issue with friends in Delhi. Some see it as a problem, but do not seem too concerned about it. 

Others have said that the NRI in me is over-reacting to something that everyone knows exists.

Maybe the NRI in me -- having lived outside the country of my birth for 33 years -- does react to India and its problems differently. 

I know India has many problems, a large population and poverty that just does not seem to end. 

India can send a mission to Mars, but it has failed to provide clean drinking water or uninterrupted power supply even to the citizens of the country’s capital city.

The saddest lives in India are of these street kids who hang out near traffic lights. 

These poor children, often naked, barefoot, homeless, living under flyovers for protection from Delhi’s killing heat, rains and brutal winters, are the forgotten souls of India.

No one seems to care for them as they sit by the sidewalks, jumping through the traffic, avoiding cars, buses, scooters, inhaling the fumes, and just surviving hour-by- hour, day-by-day. 

We see a homeless situation in the US, partly caused by mental illness related issues. 

But on a very rare occasion have I seen little children living homeless lives on subway platforms, inside the trains and especially on street corners or near traffic lights.

The fact that America -- the wealthiest nation in the world -- has a homeless problem is shame for the country and all Americans. 

But in New York City there is a law that all children must attend school. It is mandatory for them.

The street kids of India were born in the same country as I was, but they never had any rights -- no right to eat, to live, to breathe, and let’s just forget about right to education. 

I wonder if Indian census figures capture them. 

I wonder how many people actually think about them once the traffic signal turns green and their cars move forward.

I used to wonder how India’s then prime minister Manmohan Singh, a compassionate man and an economist, could sleep peacefully at night. 

Did he ever see these kids when his motorcade passed through Mathura Road or cutting its way to the Defence Colony flyover? 

But I guess his car would never stop for a red light. 

I now wonder how India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi sleeps peacefully.

When he talks about a Swachch Bharat, does he think about the forgotten souls, the little children who did not determine the fate that they have been handed. 

His vision of India is a country that is a major powerbroker in the world. But can India really succeed when it leaves some of its underprivileged so far behind that they simply do not matter?

India has long moved away from the socialist model that held back the country for decades since its independence. 

Now India and most of its citizens have openly accepted the liberalised economic model. But even in a capitalist system, the people and especially the government should have compassion for its weak. 

And so policies should be made that would ensure a better quality of life for the street kids who stand by all day watching the parade of Delhi’s traffic pass by. 

India needs to hold these children and perhaps their families, house them away from the roads where they inhale cancer causing fumes all them.

The children should be clothed, fed, and most important given education so that they grow up with positive skills other than to beg on street corners.

New Yorker Aseem Chhabra recently spent six weeks in India.

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