I have seen them walk hand-in-hand – tanned, shirtless, unwashed and in pain. But the roar of their laughter builds the uneasiness in the stomachs of the people who hesitant look at them and check their pockets to make sure that their wallets are in place. Because bhagwaan hi jane (lord only knows) what these kismet ke mare (ill-fated) are capable of.
Despite everything, insensitive and ignorant are not words you’d use to describe the public of India. Because eyes well up on traffic signals and hands full of change relentlessly move across car windows. With millions of aware people and organisations ready to help street kids, what are we doing wrong?
Everything! In fact, we are forgetting a lot.
So frequently do we associate street kids with financial troubles that we forget that beyond this divide of economic disorder lies the issue of fragile mental health. We look at them from the privileged end of our telescopes. We are so entitled to our own judgements that we forget that they are not just hungry for food and that basic education is not the only thing they require.
We keep forgetting that many of them need therapy first. We are so used to making choices for them that we forget they have voices too. They want sympathy and love – but we forget that they are not obligated to accept it.
Problems of street children make us uneasy, because it’s hard to put them into perspective. For instance, it’s hard to imagine that while you fly to and fro between cities, there are little kids on the ‘dark side’ of the airport who cannot afford to get home because the sun has set and their home is miles away. We are only looking at an aerial view of this dense forest of problems. We are canopying everything under the banner of poverty and we are scared of walking into the jungle and confirming our fears. That is why we have been unable to reach the roots of these issues.
All of this may sound superfluous and idealistic – but if your morning coffee needs so much ‘customisation’, how did you expect this nationwide problem to have one general solution? We need to stop boiling down street kids to fit our generic frameworks. They are not social science projects.