for a handful of spinach...

Have you ever wondered how much a handful of spinach costs? A few coins on a market place, a little more in a fancy store... and a few leaves picked up in a field would not be missed by its owner.

Not quite. In a remote village in the state of Bihar a little 10 year old girl lost three fingers as she dared to pick a few spinach leaves from a field. Before you express indignation let me simply add that the little Khushboo is a dalit and the owner belongs to a higher caste! And if that was not enough the girl and her father are too scared to open their mouths.

At times like these I am left speechless as nothing one can say can even begin to explain this horrific equation: a few leaves of spinach = three little fingers! I hang my head in shame as I try and look for the beginning of an answer that would explain this..

One has heard ad nauseum about the reservation issue that is threatening to destroy our social fabric. One is led to believe that the creamy layer of the so called lower castes will hog up all our place in the sun. But nothing can make up for the three tiny fingers cut off in a fit of rage for a few leaves that may have just wilted and rotten had they not been plucked.

Why did little Khushboo commit that offence? Was it to ensure that her family would not go hungry, was it because she could not bear to see her mom beaten by a defeated and helpless father, was it because it had been so long since she had tasted the freshness of a green vegetable. This is something no one will know as the little girl will keep her secret locked away inside her.

When someone decided to divide human beings into what is known as castes, I am sure that the reason was not to give one caste the licence to snip off fingers. So we before we battle about the right of one caste to accede to higher learning, maybe we would address the question of Khushboo's finger and take on the responsibility of their loss. Khushboo's fingers, Priyanka's life are just two examples of the countless tragedies that some of our own suffer because they were born in the wrong caste.

It is not reservation or affirmative action that will right his wrong. Neither is it the few fleeting expression of indignation that cross our minds as we see or hear such stories. We need to go deep within ourselves and to see what made us lose our human compassion down the line, what hubristic demon took possession of us and made us lose all sense of reality. What gave us the right to treat another fellow being in such a barbaric manner.

Khushoo's fingers will heal and her father may have to pay a few more rupees to find a man for this child. The perpetrator may or may not be caught. At best he will spend a few days in jail as all he took away were three little fingers. And all of us will move on with our lives till the next tale of horror jolts us back into momentary compassion.

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