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Why Calling A Child Without Parents ‘Anath’ Is Wrong

There are 153 million children worldwide who are orphans with an estimated 31 million orphans living in India. Yet, we never hear our elected officials, whether in India or the United States, discuss their plight; the plight of children who have no one looking out for them.

The loss of parents leaves children vulnerable to exploitation, and more often than not, their problems are left forgotten. Instead, the media would focus on what name-brand clothes a celebrity’s child is wearing, rather than the plight of the children fighting for survival.

You wouldn’t pick at a still-healing wound; it would hurt you. Then why would we pick at the emotional wounds that people bear? The loss of parents not only leaves children vulnerable to trauma, but the loss itself leaves a mark on children. Yet, we constantly remind them of that loss, that trauma. This is particularly evident in Hindi (India’s national language), which refers to orphans as ‘anath‘.

Nath‘ – the Hindi word derives from the Sanskrit ‘natha‘ meaning lord, protector or master. The prefix ‘a-‘ means ‘without’. For example, if ‘shudh‘ in Hindi means pure, then ‘ashudh‘ would mean impure or without purity.
So, ‘anath‘ literally means ‘without protection, without god.’

Anath‘ literally reminds them that they are without something. Yes, they have faced an unimaginable loss, but that doesn’t mean they should be reminded of that loss being referred to as literally ‘without god or Protection’. For that matter, what gives society the right to say that a child is ‘without god, without protection’.

A child saw his parents murdered; his siblings killed and is then forced to flee for his life. The child eventually makes his way to New Delhi, where he struggles to find his way in life. He finally decides to join the army only to fail on his first attempt, but he perseveres until he successfully gains entrance on his fourth attempt.

The army then introduces the young man who previously “didn’t even know what running was or the Olympics” to sports. This is a true story. It is Milkha Singh’s story, an ‘anath‘ or a child ‘without god and protection’, who eventually became known as the ‘Flying Sikh’. Milkha Singh was indeed tragically orphaned during the India-Pakistan partition violence when his parents and siblings were killed. But did that make him ‘without god or without protection’?

Milkha Singh did serve as a witness to his family’s murder, but he also triumphed in the face of great tragedy and adversity to become a revered Indian sports icon. He was the first gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games from an independent India and set multiple national records as an Indian track and field sprinter.

Even though it has been decades since his retirement, he remains a source of inspiration and pride for Indians. No, he was not ‘without god’. In fact, no child is ‘without god or god’s protection’. So, how can we refer to millions of children as ‘anath‘?

I understand that people may not see the difference between the English term ‘orphan‘ and Hindi word for it – ‘anath‘. The term “orphan” solely refers to children whose parents have died – it is a neutral term of its own standing even though the meaning of the term orphan has a negative connotation. However, ‘anath‘ essentially fuses two words together to literally refer to children as ‘without god’s protection or love’.

It is simply not right. That child is not ‘without god’ simply because they have lost their parents. In fact, god resides in each and every person, inside each and every soul. The Hindu Vedic scriptures could not have said that a child who has lost their parents is a child without god not when the core belief of Hinduism is that god is in everyone and that everyone is in god.

It is clear that the term ‘anath‘ itself reflects societal flaws and perceptions rather than the societal ideals we should strive for.
It is imperative that we change how the Hindi language refers to orphans. Children are precious, they are our future, and we need to acknowledge that.

On that note, not only should we recognize the struggles faced by orphans, but also salute those who have fought for the rights of these forgotten children.

Sindhutai Sapkal, the ‘Mother of Orphans,’ was a recipient of the Padma Shri Award 2021 (the highest civilian award for Indians) for adopting close to 2,000 orphans. She took on the responsibility of keeping a dozen orphans fed even as she struggled to survive by begging on the streets.

She protected the children from prowling predators and provided a family to them even as unconventional it was on the streets. Eventually, she devoted her entire life to orphans. And the orphans who lived on the streets with her are now doctors and lawyers.

Some have continued her legacy of compassion by giving a home to the orphans. Sindhutai Sapkal would never say that her children were ‘without god’s protection or blessings’. Then why do we? It is time that Indian scholars change how we refer to orphans in the Indian language. To remember that they are not just ‘without’.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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