for a bag of chips

Sunday was truly staggering in more ways than one. On the way back from Utpal's school I banged my head on the edge of the car door and it was a stunning blow. Somehow it was ominous in more ways than one.

As I lay down to catch a few minutes of respite I switched on the TV hoping it would provide the needed escape. It was a news channel and as usual the topic was the ongoing cricket controversies. I laid down with my eyes shut barely listening to the droning voice of the newsreader. The news item changed and I sat up in horror as the story of a seven year old being brutally beaten by a mob filled the air. My blood ran cold. The child, just a baby, was tied to a pole, trashed without mercy and stripped while the crowd jeered.

My thoughts went back to an incident that had occurred a few months back and that I had written about though sadly many had not understood why the plight of that woman had shaken me and disturbed me. An ugly spat had ensued on the comment box and that disturbed me to the the extent that I stopped writing about such issues.

Yet the sight of this child made me cringe and brought back all the repressed feelings. What have we become and I say we as can one afford the comfort of excluding one's selves from the mob that carried out that abhorrent act? It is a reflection of the society we have become and a shame. How can anyone allow such a thing to happen; how can anyone watch a small child being subjected to such humiliation and pain and stand still? A seven year old is a baby, a tender being that needs protection, care and nurturing. Any child that age can err; what he needs is someone to show him right from wrong.

My thoughts went back to an incident that occurred many years back when we had just begun our work. Two small boys, about 6 or 7, where often jeered and threated as thieves. Their misdemeanor was to steal a few coins from the local temple. Both hailed from poor dysfunctional families, their mothers in the village and their fathers brutal drunks. They were sweet boys, one with a severe handicap. I sat down with them one day and asked them why they took money from the temple: they looked at me with broad smiles and answered in unison: to buy chocolates! I gave them some coins and asked them to go and buy the said chocolates and show it to me. They dashed off and came back with a tiny packet of corn puffs. That was what they called chocolate. I told them not to take money from the temple but to come to me whenever they wanted chocolate and I would give them the money to buy it. Unlike what many would have believed, they never came everyday, but sometimes when they felt like a bag of corn chips.

I wonder what the little 7 year old from a little village in Bengal wanted as he set about opening a tool box? Maybe just a small treat, something every child is entitled to. Was there no one in that jeering mob that could have reached out to the child and asked him why he was stealing? Was there any justification at all to beat the child, strip and humiliate him in public? What makes us behave ion such a repugnant manner? Where are all the values we love brandishing at the drop of a hat? I cannot begin to imagine what that little child must have felt for that interminable hour? Which God did he pray to? Was that God listening? I cannot begin to imagine what scars the child will carry for the rest of his life?

What gives us the right to act in such a way? I have no answers. I just hang my head in shame.