She still sleeps on the footpath with her family, under a tree with no protection from the heat, dust or lashing rain. Her face is the kind Modigliani would have painted and she does look pretty as picture. But one look at her frail, distorted body is enough to tell another tale. Little Radha has brittle bone disease, a rare condition that affects 1 in 60 000 children and where the prognostic is grim. Little Radha's life is bound to be short.
In spite of her distorted bones and frail body, Radha has an incredible spirit and wants to do everything her friends do in class. She plays every game even if that means running on her hands. When asked what her dream was she simply said: to be able to walk!
She lived in a house so tiny that you could not stand in it, and yet that is where she and her family laughed, cried, hoped, and dreamt. It is there that her father died and that her young mother tried to rebuild a life: one of simple survival. Not an easy task for a young widow as predators lurked everywhere. We had hoped that the young mother would agree to come and live at our women centre with her 4 children but that was not to be. Perhaps she was too free a spirit or was it her extended family that did not allow it. One would never know. Radha and her family continued to live in their tiny home till it was destroyed two weeks ago by the municipal authorities. The family lost what they called home and the protection it gave them.
From that day onwards the little family slept on the roadside
without any protection from the heat or the rain. Their few belongings are carefully arranged on the kerb, or packed in plastic bags. When it rains each member of the family covers him or herself with a plastic sheet and waist for the rain to pass. A small earthen stove is built in a corner to cook the meals. The family sleeps in the open an easy prey to any kind of predator. The mother runs her food cart in the day and feeds her little family. And little Radha whose fragile bones can snap at the slightest touch navigates herself on the tiny pavement of what is now her home.
This little story is replete of deafening whys that need to be answered. Why is a child with a rare and complex condition born in a family that can barely look after a healthy child? What does a child like Radha do in a land where social security and sound medical care are non existent? Why is there no proper habitat for the poor and why can anyone be allowed to live in the abysmal conditions Radha's family did for years? Where are the laws that protect children? Where are the rights enshrined in our Constitution and why are people like Radha's family deprived of them?
For the last 15 days I have asked Radha every morning where she spent the night and for the last 15 days her answer has been: on the road! What is touching as well as saddening and infuriating is the calm with which little Radha answers the question and then goes to finish the task at hand with a smile. I do not know the answers to all the questions posed above. Perhaps only the God of small creatures can answer them. I only know that we need to do something, and do it now. We will find a new home for Radha, one that is livable and move them off the street today and help them with the rent if need be. I cannot hear another: on the road anymore!