Monday, September 25, 2017
NEW DELHI: In 2013, a few of my classmates and I were placed at an organisation in Latur district of Maharashtra. In order to complete our Master’s degree it was required that we undertake a three week rural practicum. One of the many tasks given to us by the organisation we were placed with was to do a door to door survey in a particular village to collect detailed information about number of persons with disability in the village.
We split into two groups, taking different sides of the village and began our work. At around noon, while we were going about our work, a lady from one of the houses we visited told us about a ‘mad boy’ in the village who would throw stones at people and run away from home. Our group decided to go visit the house of this said boy.
It was a small looking house, with a narrow entrance, as you enter, on the right can be seen a make – do toilet fenced with dried tree branches and next to it the house. On the left was a tent like structure which was meant to be the cow shed. As we went to the house, we saw that the door was locked and were deciding to come back later, just then one of my classmates spotted a frail, barely dressed, malnourished boy tied to a pole under the blue tent structure meant for cattle. He sat there in oblivion, covered in his own excrements, mouthing the words ‘jeeva jeeva’ (food).
We were all furious wondering how the child’s mother could just leave him tied like that. As days passed and we worked more with this family we found out that the child’s mother had been asked to return to her maternal home, on the decision of the local ‘nyaay’ panchayat, which granted her husband divorce from her, on the grounds of her having given birth to a child with intellectual disability. As we spoke more to the mother of this child it emerged that she would face regular violence at the hands of her own parents, for whom she and her son were a burden. The mother of this child was forced by her parents to go work in the fields and bring money home; this left her with no choice but to leave her son tied, since her parents refused to look after him.
I recollected this incident recently upon reading reports of a similar case in Rajasthan, where two boys with multiple disabilities were kept tied by their family. Both parents of one of the child died of HIV and he has since been living with his grandparents. While in the case of the other child his father would tie him to the tree before leaving for work.
The families of both these boys have been accused of neglect, cruelty and abuse towards the children; while their defence has been that this is their only option.
In such cases, there are larger questions that beg to be asked and answered. Is it only the immediate families of these children responsible for them? Are the community they live in and the State not responsible towards them? This is in no way to defend the abuse and neglect faced these children, but to throw light on the fact that often socio – economic circumstances and structural deficiencies which leave parents and care – takers of persons with disability with few options.
Take the example of the boy whose father ties him to the tree, while he works in the field. With no one else to look after the child, the father is his primary care –giver and only earning member of the family. If the father was to take the child to work or stay at home to look after the child who would earn for the family and what would they eat? What are the alternatives available to this father?
In the case of the other child, who is living with his grandparents, since his parents passed away, his grandmother, Peepi Bai, 75, says that their grandson gets violent and often runs away from home; given the age of the grandparents and their socio – economic circumstances, it is difficult for them to take care of the child and also earn a living. Here again, I ask the question – what options do the grandparents have?
In all these three cases, it must be understood, that the neglect and abuse that the family members are being accused of is a choice imposed upon them by their circumstances. If the parent’s/ grandparents don’t go earn, how to they feed the child, and sustain themselves?
In such circumstances, does it not become the responsibility of the community and the State to provide additional assistance to the family, rather than merely accusing them of abuse and neglect? What alternatives or choices did these parents/ care – givers have to ensure the survival and safety of their children?
Do these children and their families exist in isolation from their surroundings, community and State? If not, is it then fair to only hold the families of these children responsible for the abuse and neglect, while community members and the State are abdicated of all responsibility?
What is needed is not merely removing children from their family and putting them in a home, but building systems and structures of support that provide alternatives to families, taking into account their socio – economic circumstances and needs.
Here, I would also like to point out that the Mail Online while carrying a report on the children in from Rajasthan has violated the legal provisions for media coverage under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. These provisions prohibit disclosing the name, address or any other details which can identify the child. Not only has the report carried unchanged names and other details of the children which can identify them, it has also carried photographs of the children violating their right to privacy and dignity.