"FREEDOM"- FROM WHAT?
- Fr. Cedric Prakash*
The little slum child thrust her hand into my stationary vehicle, at the signal stop, clutching a dozen or so plastic tricolours; "buy one" she begged, "for Rs.5.00 and if you pay Rs.10.00, I will give you three".
The irony and the tragedy of the situation could not be lost! This little girl, not more than ten years, should have been in school. And here she was desperate to earn some money and perhaps help supplement the meagre earnings of her family. What does the Right to Education mean to her and to perhaps millions of other children all over the country who really have no access to any kind of education? Is she a beneficiary of the 'Save the Girl Child Campaign' or one of the 'Garib Kalyan Melas' on which the Government spends so much merely on publicity and fanfare? How about the laws for the Prevention of Child Labour – is there a political will to ensure its implementation? These and many other questions hit me simultaneously.
The reality becomes even more frightening as one is caught in the whirlwind of what is happening all around: scams, scandals, insecurity, and violence. For the little girl out there, the corruption in the run-up to the Common Wealth Games might mean nothing and she might not be aware that tonnes of food grains are rotting in several parts of the country and providing a feast for the rodents. The fact is that the grain which is being allowed to rot is rightfully hers. A recent directive of the Supreme Court has ordered this. Perhaps this little girl is related to one of those, who get into our gutters to clean them. An in-depth study highlights the fact that forty-one sewerage workers in the last four years have lost their lives in the sewers of urban Gujarat.
As for the plastic tri-colors, she desperately wants to sell, she is blissfully unaware that plastics, such as these, are not permissible in many parts of the world and also in some parts of India. All she wants to do is to earn a few bucks as she tries to capitalize on my sense of 'patriotism'.
Patriotism? For what? Does mere flag- waving ensure 'freedom'?
I hesitate once again as she begs a final time. Her freedom has been bought several times over. Should I attempt to buy it-once again? The signal turns green…She quickly runs to the side of the road…
(*Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
PRASHANT (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052