Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bling is the thing

My paper tells me that a certain British gentleman by the name of Geoff Chapman is appalled that the beggar mafia in Mumbai might be maiming children to increase their begging power. He found that piece of information in an article in a British tabloid whose headline went: "The real Slumdog Millionaires: Behind the cinema fantasy, mafia gangs are deliberately crippling children for profit."

One of the nightmares of mothers whose children go missing is this--if it's a girl she's going to be sold into prostitution; if it's a boy he's going to be maimed for begging. It's almost a relief then to get that call for ransom which may eventually mean getting back the child's battered body but which might miraculously mean, the child's safe return.

Mr Chapman is associated with charities that campaign against child abuse. In our case, he must have seen how useless such a campaign would be. So he's taken the route our harassed, exploited, cheated rustics take. He has written to our PM asking him if it is indeed true that children are crippled for begging.

We must assume that this is the first our PM has ever heard of such a thing. For his office has passed Mr Chapman's query down through the usual chain to the Maharashtra Government for follow-up action. It'll be a while before Mr Chapman hears back from the PM, because what the Maharashtra government intends doing is probe his "allegations".

But the probe, at the end of which the government will in all likelihood find the shining truth that no beggar mafia operates in this heartless way in the State, might itself take a little longer than expected because it will have to take its place in a growing line of probes. The Bombay High Court has demanded to know from the government why so many minor girls in the State's ashramshalas are returning home pregnant. There's a long-pending probe into severe malnutrition among children below five which needs to be put on a war footing. Then there are probes due into why schools in our villages have no teachers, blackboards, drinking water and toilets and into who eats the nutritious food meant for schoolchildren under the government's free meals programme. There's another probe pending into why public health centres in villages have no medicines, or doctors for that matter.

In time the government will give itself that quaint thing called a "clean chit". In its answer to Mr Chapman, it will mention that there's a remand home in Mumbai in a place called Dongri where little beggars without arms are incarcerated along with delinquents of various descriptions for counseling. One might wonder what they get told --that it was wrong to have allowed themselves to be kidnapped and maimed?

Such counseling must also have come the way of those two wretched youngsters who were picked up by our efficient police despite their piteous wails that they weren't beggars or vagrants but schoolboys from families who paid their fees. You will remember how long it took for the parents to tear through red tape to get back their sons. The way into Dongri is quick. The way out is not.

But hush. We will not tell Mr Chapman these things. Not only because we are patriots and would never do such a thing; but because it would not be fair to burden him with the responsibility of such knowledge.

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