a tale of two indias - the plight of dead children

Bachha ghat is not a play ground for children, it is the only place where children under three can set be to rest after their death. Hinduism does not allow them to be cremated as it is said that their soul is not connected to their body! This was brought to light in a disturbing and shocking news item aired yesterday on national television.

What one forgets is that what is set to rest is not a few pounds of flesh. What is set to rest is a child, nurtured and loved by its mother, held with pride by its father. What is laid to rest is a set of unfulfilled and crashed dreams, what is laid to rest is a life cut short.

I can speak with authority as I lived all my life under the shadow of a dead brother I never knew, one that lived but a few days on earth but lived in my mother's memory till she breathed her last, a brother who was ever present in my life. I guess my parents were lucky that he was born and died in an alien land. A tombstone marks his brief passage on earth in a Prague cemetery.

I can speak with authority as only a few years ago I scurried around the city with a tiny bundle in my arms looking for a dignified place to lay it to rest. To many it was just a 7 months still born foetus, but for one young mother it was her first child. I had been summoned to Safdurjung hospital by a pwhy staff who was admitted there, as this very young mother had gone in a state of shock when she was told to hand over her child so that it could be thrown in the hospital dustbin. She had refused to let go of her baby and sat in catatonic inertia. When I reached the maternity ward I just held out my shawl and gently asked the girl to give me her child promising her a dignified send off. She did. That was the beginning of an ordeal I cannot forget.

I took my precious bundle which for me was above all a mother's love and went to the one place I knew: the Lodhi crematorium foolishly believing that there must be an option for young children. As we alighted from the three wheeler I could see a bunch of predators (read funeral rites priest) approach us, gauging our worth and probably thinking we were an advance part to some funeral. When they knew what we had come for, they just walked away in disdain, not even listening to our plea.

I must thank our stars that no one guided us to bachha ghat. Refusing to give up as my promise had to be honoured, I stood my ground. A few minutes later an elderly man approached us and told us that we could bury the child a little further in the empty grounds that lay ahead. He did not reveal that it was the defecating place of the nearby slums. We found a place that seemed clean. No help was forthcoming from the people that had gathered around so we slowly dug a grave with our bare hands, and lay the little child to rest, wrapped in its shawl, and carefully laid stones on the grave and placed the few flowers we had brought with us.

Yesterday's news item brought back this forgotten day.

We are a city busy building malls, and expressways; we are a city displacing the poor with impunity; we are a city busy dividing the gap between rich and poor and yet this incident shows that at least in death rich children and poor children are treated the same way.

The said TV channel held a discussion of this shocking reality and once again we witnessed the birth of a new polemic with all the necessary ingredients for endless debates for all: politicians, opposition, religious leaders, the judiciary, the newly empowered citizen groups et al..

But as the debate goes on, more children will find their way to the baccha ghat while the city will be busy for 2010 a red later day for many. Today's world is for the living rich, not for the dead and least of all for the poor.

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