Chacha had mentioned in his ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech, “We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.” But never had the children imagined in their wildest dreams that the mansion would be too expensive.
According to the 2017 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 97th out of the 118 countries experiencing a severe hunger crisis. The 2015 Integrated Child Development Services report has stated that 19.8 million children under the age of six years in India are undernourished. Based on the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16, only 9.6% of the children between 6-23 months receive an adequate diet and only one in five of the pregnant mothers receive full prenatal care in India. According to the 2009 World Bank Report, the number of underweight children in India is among the highest across the globe. More than 44% of children under the age of five years are underweight, 72% of infants and 52% of married women are anaemic, thereby increasing the risk of future diseases, cognitive inabilities and physical retardation of those yet to be born.
The balika vadhu is a reality too. According to the 2011 Census, 30% of girls below 18 are subjected to this darkness. A radical depiction of this curse has been aptly displayed in “Bandit Queen” in 1994. India has more than 45 lakh girls under 15 years of age who are married and have children. Out of them, 70% have two children.
According to the NFHS 4, in 2015-16, the total immunisation coverage of the country stands at only 62%. The increase in the number of pox affected children is a testament to this reality. On the other hand, in face of the Trinamool government’s reluctance in acknowledging the occurrence of the disease, the death toll of children suffering from dengue is on the rise in Bengal.
Increase in infant mortality rates in the BJP-led states is a grievous affair. In Yogi Adityanath’s empire, more than 1000 children have died due to lack of proper medicines and shortage in oxygen supply between January to August 2017. The under-five mortality rate of Uttar Pradesh for the year 2015-16 is 78 per 1000. The government hospitals of Jamshedpur and Ranchi have also recorded many deaths in 2017. Maharashtra has recorded 17,944 infant and 4,041 child deaths in the last two years. According to NFHS, at least 64 children below the age of six years die every day in Madhya Pradesh and its present infant mortality rate is worse than that of some African countries.
Na ana is desh mein lado. Female infanticide and foeticide is a social evil, well-reviewed in academic circles. The report of the District Crime Records Bureau 2014, every eight minutes, a child goes missing in India. Kidnapping and subsequent link to prostitution is a major cause. Of 2 million sex workers in India, about 20% are minors. Of them, nearly 15% came into the occupation below 15 and 25% between 15 to 18 years of age. In Bengal, some women leaders of the BJP have been recently accused of being involved in the trafficking business associated with different hospitals and NGOs!
According to the District Information System for Education Report 2014-15, out of every 100 children, only 32 can finish their school education, age appropriately. This is in compliance with the tendency of the central government to allocate for education about 80% less than that reserved for politics of border and defence in their annual budgets. India has failed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015. The Kothari Education Commission (1964-1966) had recommended a 6% allocation of GDP on education – that which has been presently achieved is only 3.8%. According to an IndiaSpend report in the year 2016, the quality of learning has declined despite heavy funding of the ‘Sarva Siksha Abhiyan’ scheme.
Though the central government boasts of its Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, its major setbacks clearly depict the real intentions of the administration. Despite its elaborate claims. There are examples which show how the allotted money is misused; in Panipat, the state administration has spent the allotted money in building theme gates or diverting them to other schemes avoiding legal procedures.
According to the UNICEF, there are 33 million child labourers in India and as per the 2011 census, 80% of them are Dalits and 20% are from the Backward Classes. With a majority of poor families in India trapped in their transgenerational bondage of debt, such statistics are worth reckoning. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, is dangerous as it does not define the hours of work but simply states that children may work after school hours or during vacations. According to official reports, 63 lakh children, between six to 17 years of age are working for more than 180 days in a year. The controversial bill has even empowered the government authorities to amend the list of hazardous occupations to be excluded from the ambit of child labour at their own discretion!
While the government claims with futility that to strike a balance between education and India’s economic reality, such a reform is needed in which parents would rely on their children to help with farming or artisanal work to fight poverty or carry on their family trade, an important remark of a bearded philosopher and economist seems more relevant. “A general prohibition of child labor is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish. Its realization — if it were possible — would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labor with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.” The subtle difference of either notion has been left to the readers for deliberation.
Keeping aside such statistics, literature and mainstream cinema have turned their face away from the children as well. Despite its rich heritage, Bengali child literature is presently facing a stage of stagnation. Our childhood ‘Ghanada’, ‘Nonte Fonte’, ‘Handa Bhonda’ still endure us with a sigh of relief. ‘Shukhtara’, ‘Kishore Bharati’, ‘Chandmama’ and a few others still continue to nourish the child’s intellect. Our childhood ‘Shaktiman’ has made way as ‘superhit’ in school discussions. There has even been a decline in the international production of cartoons which we, the 90s kids used to enjoy 24X7. On the contrary, parallel cinema is outrunning the mainstream in this aspect: “Jadui Macchi”, “Two Solutions To One Problem”, “Two and Two”, “Chanda Ki Jutee”, “Stanley Ka Dabba”, “The Song of Sparrows”, “Baran”, etc.
Amidst such ignorance, the little ones seem to debunk their childhood and grow up early, to face the dire reality in advance. Therefore, in the present situation, when the country faces the possibility of a nationwide ‘chaddi march’ of the chillar party, let us struggle for a new world where an apt answer to ‘Nanhe munne bacchae teri mutthi mein kya hai’ would be ‘hamari mutthi mein akaash sara, jab bhi khulegi chamkega tara’.