By Jigna Kotecha:
Before dawn could fall on brooding streets in Chhattisgarh, a disturbing phenomenon of people driving past packs of emaciated laborers, waiting with their aged tools and hope-crammed eyes to build a dream edifice could be seen conveying a threatening atmosphere in the state. Laborers, the outcome of disturbed contour, are rammed into makeshift slums beside construction sites after being stripped off their traditional habitat to allow corporate companies to exploit natural resources.
Heaved out of the picture are dazed and shoeless children of these labourers, rummaging through mountains of garbage, relentlessly searching for something to fill their aching bellies with, before they surrender to yet another intoxicated stupor caused by glue. With grinded innocence, these children begin to stir on frigid December days, only to catch fancy of unaffordable indulgences and stretch scrub-worn hands before the privileged. Failing to churn out enough pennies to buy bread, children dispense hunger through unnatural craving for banned drugs. While the state has been reborn under the penumbra of political arena, such children are lost under the shadow of soaring skyline of luxury towers, the beacons of a new gilded age.
Throughout the years, Chhattisgarh has bore fissures on its demography, dividing the less fortunate and lesser fortunate on the basis of ration card color. As domiciles of Chhattisgarh, we subsist on a regular diet of tribal exploitation and signing of MoUs with corporate companies, farmer exploitation and distribution of rice at Rs 2/kg, bonded labour and digital revolution, husbands continue to burn their wives for dowry and government frittering away crores on Kareena Kapoor’s 6-minute stage appearance.
As the state reorders itself around the whims of the wealthy, we witness the polarization of two generations, one bouncing high to prosperity and another stuck under the wheel of struggle. Parents, who struggle with low-wage stagnation, taper the chances of children to cultivate their hungry minds with education. It explains a Chhattisgarh living in several centuries at the same time, somehow progressing and regressing together. Ephemeral epoch of development and enduring exploitation has pushed generations, who feud from within, into a silent territory. The scenario in Chhattisgarh has worried the edges of human imagination, where children run wild, not with notebooks but standard dope. Reason – the failure of Child Welfare to formulate sound provisions for street children. Children find themselves clogged into a jittery situation when denied or asked to restrain from drugs.
Who are these children?
Political machines, spinning with centrifugal force have funneled the poor out like disposable residue and concentrated wealth in fewer hands. Evidently, corporate war has frustrated the shift of new living and pushed the poor to dark territories, finding them exiled in their own land. Children of these poor families are the children of lesser gods, who are ebbed off to the dispensary of deleted memories.
These children, who can be distinguished from their stunted growth, are seen struggling to hustle pennies out of heavy pockets, a daily grind that requires little skill and would never be considered worthy. With the approach of dusk, they huddle up on rags and cove their frail thin bodies with sacks. Any unfamiliar noise awakens them; the constant fear of attack, robbery and a threat of sodomy alarmingly lurks every night. The boys live a semi-nomadic life, constantly haunted by thugs, watchmen and even the police; their entire existence consists of surviving through the starkest poverty, relentlessly forced to shuttle from one place to the next, seeking shelter in abandoned buildings or empty half-roof shops in the market place during the nights.
Chaotic convergence of ignorance and poverty veer away these inured children into becoming drug addicts and sniffing solutions out of small tubes. With bloodshot puffy eyes, children squeeze out glue into a piece of cloth and hold it close to mouth to inhale fumes. The glue that these street children sniff is mostly shoe repair glue, which is readily available, cheap, highly addictive, highly toxic, and extremely powerful because of the neurotoxin toluene. Chemical toluene is a sweet-smelling and intoxicating hydrocarbon, alongwith neurotoxin. The solvent dissolves the membrane of brain cells and causes hallucinations as wells as dampening hunger pangs, and wards off cold. Glue sniffing can cause neurological damage, kidney failure, paralysis and even death.
Government of India (GOI) run child welfare programmes recently produced the statistics about ratio of addicts to the total number of street children in India, believing 19% of world’s children live in India and one-third of this population are the children below 18 years of age. Out of this, 40 % children are vulnerable to or experiencing difficult circumstances. Also, Chhattisgarh contributes 450-500 street children every year to this statistics.
Reviewing the grim statistics, Chhattisgarh alone records approx 80% street children into drug addiction those are mainly found in railway stations and streets. Substance abuse creates a huge hindrance for survival, protection, growth and development of healthy children, which is fundamental for improving quality of life. Survey conducted under Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) elucidates the count of street children in state during the financial year 2010-11 was 415. The website of ICSC shows dead links giving no record of children after 2011.
1. Escape from life/relieve pain – For most tribals in Chhattisgarh, life is just plain tough and normal waking consciousness brings a constant stream of pain and craving for the escape.
2. Forced into labour – Some children are forced to supplement their family incomes, they beg, sell trinkets and shine shoes. They also often resort to petty theft and prostitution to survive.
3. Hunger – Young children surrender to chemicals to escape from reality and constant hunger pangs.
4. Addict parents — Attitude of parents towards tobacco, alcohol and other substances. Drug-related behavior of parents is usually duplicated in children.
5. Violence and rebellion – Corporal, sexual or mental abuse forces these children out of the house and engage in drug abuse.
6. Availability of drugs — Finding drugs is not so difficult for children and adolescents in state, where glues cost Rs 5/10 and is easily sold to children by medical, hardware or general stores.
7. Handicapped bureaucracy — Absence of an outlined policy for minor addicts arrests further chances for any rehabilitation policy to come to existence. Despite beggars and addicts being the central focus for 2013-14 project, CWC has not taken the pains to collect relevant data. The field worker still remains clueless about the exact number of drug addicts in the state by the end of year.
What the state is doing?
Childline 1098 tracks, identifies and rescues the street children, takes them to police station for General Description (GD) and filing a First Information Report (F.I.R.), then shifts these children to shelter homes or psychiatric center, depending on their condition. It then starts search for the family members of children based on the information received from police station. 80% of the children are addicts. But, since there is no de-addition center in state for minors, the addicts (who run away from shelter homes to again join the cycle) are left to stay with normal children. Meanwhile, the Childline hands over the case to respective departments for compensation. After four months of stay, the shelter homes for street children are handed over to the Child Welfare Council (CWC), which decides the fate of the child for the next four month in shelter homes.
The process soon ends after Childline fails to track the parents and CWC adjourns without an answer for addicts, who could not battle the carving at shelter homes (where they are left unmonitored) and run away to die of overdose. Children are shuttled from streets to shelter homes and the process continues till they are lost somewhere in the process. No tracking for runaway children, no provision for education or counseling of children under RTE for children at shelter homes, or correction process is defined under the duties of Childline.
People working with street children report that they are ingenious, creatively recycling the objects they find and own. However, amidst all the scurrying and scrounging behavior, their scrawny bodies and jutting bones are testaments to their malnutrition. Some blame their malnutrition on their drug use. And it is a cheap escape with sniffing glues. In recent decades, substance abuse has become widespread among preteen children. Like scourges of old, this epidemic spreads without regard to economic, geographic, religious or family boundaries. The end of 2013 marked fallout of political regime that failed to protect street children, simply because they do not come under any purview of vote banks, hence they lose the right to be noticed.