A massive racket broke through the evening silence. “Chori karta hain! Abhi police ko bulati hun!” [You’re stealing? Wait. I’m calling the cops.] screeched a woman in rage. Mentally cheering woman power, I rushed to the terrace to see what was going on. Several people were similarly out in their respective windows and balconies, and a small crowd was rapidly gathering around a woman who had collared two children. Another child stood nearby with a small sack.
As angry people started getting aggressive, and the children looked terrified out of their wits, I hastily ran down to find out what the matter was. By then, an older man had taken over the two children from the woman, and laid in a few slaps. Asking those gathered what had happened, no one was quite sure. So I waded in and asked the people directly yelling at him, quite happy to deflect attention and give them a breather.
The children were street kids, who the woman claims had earlier been warned to not come in the area. She claimed that they reached in from windows and stole whatever was within reach. Other angry people spoke about missing underwear (not joking), bedsheets and such. None of them claimed to have seen the children take anything, but most of them were certain that these kids, lurking around daily were the culprits.
I asked them to empty their sack and it was indeed full of empty beer bottles like they had said. So I asked the people if the bottles belonged to them. No answer. I asked them if they could name something the kids had taken. Someone chimed in that there were bicycles being stolen in the area by street kids. No one was able to say that these were the children who took the bicycles.
In the meanwhile, a younger man had grabbed one of them and was threatening to strip him publicly as punishment, to which I bluntly told him that he was doing no such thing. “They won’t learn otherwise!” “What do they have to learn? They don’t have stolen goods on them. None of you can prove a thing. What are you expecting to teach them? Or is it that because they are street kids and no one is here to defend them, you can punish them for every imagined crime street kids do?” I fumed.
My husband, resigned to my ways quit watching from the balcony. He probably figured out that nothing was going to happen to those kids with me there.
Much talking and coming back over and over to the point that the sack they carried contained exactly what they claimed – trash – empty beer bottles. Much insisting that there will be no violence in any case. A few housewives found their voices to agree with me. “What will a child find within the reach of its hand in a window?” “Most windows have box grills anyway – even we can’t hand out things if we wanted to” started emerging.
Another young man spoke up to say that unless we caught them red handed, it was not right to call the police who would harass them.
In the end, I told the kids that we understand that they make their living selling scrap, but the building compounds don’t have scrap thrown inside. They can collect in the public area, but if they are caught without reason inside building compound again, they will end up with the cops, and I will not say a thing to defend them.
Then I deliberately walked with them a bit away from the group (and any residual anger). My heart broke to see those weeping faces, even though I was not entirely certain that they were all that innocent. And I gave them my parting shot “If I smell thinner on you again, we’re going to go to the cops to get help for you.”
2 thoughts on “Street Children: Were they thieves?”
Kids are the future of any country and I believe at that stage of life they are not supposed to do things like rag picking, but unfortunately the strong socio-economic ties of our great feudalistic(yes feudalism, which is still at core of the 70% of Indians) society force them do the same. The problem lies somewhere in Lack of acceptance towards these people, neither do we understand the problem nor the government. “Society” or rather I should say “educated and literate society” finds it very difficult to except someone who comes form a lower strata. In rural areas Caste plays a dangerous role, the poor families of these kids have to leave their native place because of their impurity are not accepted (Socially-Politically or Economically), hence they migrate to the Urban areas, and again they tussle with abject poverty and are ready to do anything in order to sustain their lives. For survival kids are supposed to earn some thing in order to support the family. Thanks to the great Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act(CLA), 1986, which prohibits Child Labour in 18 hazardous industries, rag picking is not among them. As far as civilized or say deodorant masses are concerned, for them these kids are nothing more than a stinking piece of shit(technically, these are the cool languages Indian citizens use these days). The general perception of course is of Dilluter and all, and because of that no one wants to see them around (we civilized people do not want dirt around no matter how much dirty our thoughts are), but we never care what makes them to take dilluter or even petrol. Government on the other hand is always ready to make things worse. Nothing is priority to them unless it has some value for them. Bluntly speaking, social issues(education, health, poverty) are those issues which are used as a tool by every government to exaggerate things. They never want to bridge the divide between Rich and Poor. They never want to end any problem from its root. Weak, Illiterate and disillusioned massed are their prey and it is of their interest to keep these people as they are.
Unless or until well offs start taking care of Worse offs, we can not imagine a society where everyone lives with respect and dignity. Always remember It’s you who creates Society/Politicians, So forget about others, try to make yourself good corruptionfree and All would be well at the end.
Oh Vidyut , whether kids were innocent or not ,we are nobody to judge. The circumstances they live in , I would n’t entirely blame them for any petty theft they might have done ever. We cant trust police even one bit to oversee the safety of these kids.
Its a rotten country we are in , kids are not safe here, its not even the priority of our Government.
hats off to you to have rescued them from the undue wrath of prejudiced people.
Recently 9last week) in my visit to National capital , after some 15 years , I saw some 4-5 kids ,famished, bare upper bodies , begging at traffic signal. It broke my heart to see them wasting their lives like this. I dunno ,if they were made to do so by some racket but,it left me with a very unsettling feeling that this is how we treat kids of our nation.
In short , govt,police and citizens nobody cares for kids of our nation ,if they are street kids.