Forty years ago a child of the street hopped over the wall of a locked house in Delhi to peep through the glass of a shut window. Another child passing by in a school bus saw him through the bus window, and wondered what he glimpsed, thought and felt as he peeped into somebody’s house. The bus took her to school and she never saw him again and she didn’t get her answer.
I suppose we remain contained. Within our homes, cars and buses; behind doors and windows; in our heads and within our own perspectives. It’s good that we don’t all spill out in ragged shirts, cuffing our siblings under street lights, sleeping on road dividers, looking to snatch and grab a tossed coin between cars changing gear as the light turns green. That we don’t all carry guns, real guns with real bullets and didn’t do so when we were ten and didn’t lay land mines nor were we used to locate them.
That we don’t all have memories of violent beatings, heads banged against walls, faces pushed into toilet bowls and flushed, sexual predators cramming in pulao and laddoos at family celebrations, smiling at the children they are betraying and abusing; silent keepers of tragic secrets.
We read this (and I write this) because you and I were born, an entirely random occurrence, to varying but positive degrees of opportunity, care, education and the ability to keep ourselves safe. More importantly, with the privilege to access our fundamental human rights and seek protection when we need it. With protection from the consequences of extremities in weather, physical, mental and sexual harm, financial instability, ignorance, illiteracy, communal riots, failure, disease, disability, disasters natural and man-made, crime, hunger, and abandonment. That’s where we identify ourselves, mostly protected.
This same random fact of birth will decide who will be born in which country, to how much money, or to fish and rice in the dinner pot. Who will be the eight or ten year old son of a Christian Missionary burnt alive along with his father in a car set aflame by a crowd of adults thirty strong or the daughter of a sex worker from Kolkata’s Sonagachi to march with other children like her demanding their rights. Who will have a neuron that doesn’t work properly disabling some brain processes for life or who will be a boy or man missing a Y chromosome thus placing this individual in unfamiliar sex and gender territory in a world where, mostly, we accept the simplest XX and XY and punish or murder the rest.
The need for protection is the greater equalizer, in concept.
The presence of protection is as random as birth; yours, mine and hers.
And all of this? This is injustice.
There’s always windows between us and children. Invariably and unluckily for them, they are usually on the outside – of a car, a room, a house, a head. Even when they are sometimes our family members it’s difficult to respect them or accept them as entire persons. Because when the windows in our heads have rusted shut, all the other windows tend to follow.
I do know though, that there are those who’ve worked hard to open those windows, choosing to reach across, ask a question, teach a hand to form a क – a हक or an A, or simply help in any way they can. I know there are some who stepped in and intervened when a brother or an uncle was sexually abusing a ten-year-old or when an influential and respected colleague was thrashing the twelve-year-old working in their kitchen. I know there are mothers far removed from the clinic, and psychiatrists far removed from motherdom, who learn new skills and conduct public workshops on autism and child suicide.
They open those windows in the head and they move something in the world for one and sometimes for many.
I’ll always remember from forty years ago that thin child with a cotton shirt between him and the Delhi winter looking into a house through a window and I will wonder about him. Since then, I have seen many like him and I haven’t always stopped to find out what they’re seeing, thinking or feeling. I’ve found myself angry and overwhelmed by the need I witness, except when I am being brusque, uncaring and numb. But the truth is I’d like to open the window; ask a question and seek an answer. I think at the very least, I can do that.