Amidst the hustle of cities and caught in the web of individual commitments, our encounters with those on the streets are reduced to inconsiderate – and sometimes, selective – acts of kindness. These are meant to give the ‘beneficiaries’ of these acts a sense of instant privilege, which we probably think they are not deserving of.
My story of interacting with street children consists of a lot of excitement, happiness, and a little bit of embarrassment. This was a day when I stepped out of college knowing that I had to do something good.
The feeling went back a few weeks when I had exited a metro station and was greeted by a four-year-old who was trying to sell balloons to passersby.
I walked up to him and asked for one. He very candidly handed me a balloon, without a sign of happiness on his face. I was struck by the seriousness that this kid could display. I tried to chat with him for a bit, and asked him a few questions about him and his family.
I left soon after this short meeting – but the memory stayed with me for weeks to come.
Coming back to the fateful day – I set out to do something rewarding. I went back to the place wanting to spend some time with a few kids. I started talking to a kid – and in no time, I was walking around with a small group of five- to eight-year-olds. After a lot of debate, the kids decided that they wanted to eat at McDonald’s while sitting inside the restaurant.
This story is not about what happened at McDonald’s. That went pretty well. It is about what happened after the party was over and about the realisations that subsequently dawned upon me.
The mother of one of the kids was looking for her child and thought that she had gone missing. Upon finding us, she slapped her child twice, came up to me and very politely said, “Didi, I know you had good intentions, but I got worried about my child. Someone could have taken her away – and I would have had no chance of finding her.”
While the situation hardly bothered the kids, I was filled with guilt and embarrassment – because an intended act of kindness had turned into a major goof-up. On my way back home, I realised how easy it is for us to take for granted the issues of identity and security related to kids living on the streets.
Had it been some other kid, I would have taken these factors all into consideration. I was quick enough to assume that taking them for a walk should not be a problem to their parents – or in that case, I assumed that they wouldn’t have parents in the first place.
The issues of identity faced by these kids rest on a complex web of inter-relationships of various cultural, political as well as economic factors. The consequences of this inter-relatedness are clearly visible in the plight of these groups, today. Examining these factors will, undoubtedly, lead to a better understanding of the situation. But tackling the issue as a whole requires a little more involvement than mere distant and secondary knowledge. The best and perhaps the most fruitful way to address this is being directly involved with the communities.
In our perception, the ‘street’ rests in the ‘public’ space – which we tend to differentiate from the ‘private’. Imagining families spending their entire lives in a space so open and unprotected makes it difficult to identify them with the normalcy of family and civil life. This is one of the reasons why we often tend to ignore even the basic necessities that are missing from their lives.
The consequences this perception brings about for the underprivileged are not difficult to trace. A lack of civil, political and cultural identities strips them of the ability to access even the most basic resources that are required to live a healthy life.
The threat that this fluid identity of a ‘street life’ poses is such that it can cost children their lives. Without a valid, State-approved identity, the children lose the privilege of being looked after by the authorities. And in the absence of a traditional cultural identity, they lose the privilege of being recognised by the people around them. It seems as if there is no way to go from here.
However, as complex as things seem to look, simple acts of kindness can take this world a long way. All we need to do is engage ourselves in interacting with these communities.
Many a time, good intentions can be unfruitful if we are not fully aware of the conditions of those we are trying to help. An obvious solution to this situation would be to raise awareness about these communities – and most importantly, understanding their culture. In my opinion, a distant understanding of things will not prove successful unless it is done by promoting awareness through direct interaction.
We need to involve ourselves with the ones we want to take care of. Numerous children on the streets need strength – not only from our individual selves, but also from our families and friends. The more people we strive to engage in this cause, the bigger and better it will become.
The wall of awkwardness and goof-ups can be struck down only through constant participation with the ones who need our support the most.
Image used for representative purposes only.