It was the same old story. I had settled to begin my work when my laptop gave up on me. I sullenly sat and watched “System Error” messages creeping up my screen. How annoying that an entire system should conspire against me like this. Computer systems ruin our deadlines, digestive systems ruin our fondness for food and the legal and political system ruin everything else. Yes! the system can gang up against us. More so for some of us than others. Most often for those who have no means, no voice, and no vote. And one category of people who fit all these criteria is of course children. If our society were a large computer screen what would be the error messages, we would see?
A 16-year old was beaten to death over seats in a train. The mob focussed all their communal hatred on him physically and verbally assaulting him till he was no more. Here was a living breathing child who set out on a journey and died. What can we tell his mother? Religious System Error…Compassion Not Responding.
A Dalit child in a government school was thrashed for touching the Mid-Day meal plates. A meal that is his right. A right provided by our Constitution. Here was a school child who reached out for probably the only meal he would get in the day and was beaten up. What can we tell his parents? Caste System Error…Constitution Not Responding.
A young father in his thirties, killed his 40-day old baby because she was a girl. Here was a mother who had dreamt of a baby, who had songs ready to sing for her, stories ready to captivate her, tiny clothes to dress her up and now she has nothing. What can we tell this woman? Patriarchal System…Common Sense Not Responding.
A young man fed his four little siblings poisoned burgers which killed them in their sleep and then committed suicide because his parents were too poor to take care of all of them. Here were two parents who while struggling to make ends meet surely had hope that life would turn a corner and they would be better off someday. What can we tell them? Class System Error…Opportunities Not Responding.
Our systems breed discrimination. Discrimination is violence. Children are enmeshed in these systems that violate their basic right to protection on a daily basis. The question is how helpless are we and how helpless do we pretend to be? Can collective action change a system? History has proved that it can.
I am reminded of the lines that Martin Niemöller wrote just after the Holocaust arguing against apathy.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
They are coming after our children…Is it time for us to speak yet? Humanity System Error…Conscience Not Responding.