The tragic story of Falak (pictured), the battered and bruised two-year-old child who was dumped at the trauma centre of All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi by her teenaged mother, has understandably caused both shock and horror. How can a mother brutalise and discard her daughter? What monster can do this to a defenceless child?
The doctors at AIIMS have been valiantly battling to save Falak's life which hangs precariously by a slender thread. With septicemia setting in, it is anybody's guess whether she will pull through her mind-numbing ordeal. Even if she survives, with extensive damage to her brain Falak may be deprived of the joys of life.
Every time we are confronted by such depravity, we make the appropriate noises of concern, express outrage, and then move on. Public memory being notoriously short, incidents and individuals are forgotten. Who remembers the ghastly details of the grisly crime of carving up little children to satiate the perverse desires of two men at Nithari, a short distance from the national capital?
The 24-hour news cycle of eyeball-grabbing media ensures no story outlives its utility in pushing up ratings and circulation. If a story sells, it is pursued; if it doesn't, it is dropped. The misery of a child, indeed of children, unfortunate enough to be born to unloving parents is often of fleeting interest. We have become inure to real life tragedies. As Donald Rumsfeld infamously said, "Stuff happens."
It's just that it happens with a sickening regularity, providing us with an accurate reflection of the deep-seated malaise that afflicts our society. The honest truth is that we no longer value human lives, especially when it comes to children who are abused, disowned, discarded. More often than not, they are girls, considered a burden and a curse by the rich and the poor, the educated and the illiterate. Those who disagree are in an awful minority.
And so it is that we hear of a mother abandoning her baby girl in a commuter train, as it happened this past week in Kolkata, or on railway tracks, as was reported in Delhi. Those given to a lesser degree of cruelty kill the girl child even before she is born. We have banned pre-natal sex determination tests but the law is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Since nobody complains, no cases are registered; since cases are not registered, nobody is punished.
Those who can afford the cost, travel abroad to countries where it's legal to determine the gender of the foetus. And if the foetus is not that of a male, they get rid of it. Abortion, after all, is legal and considered a right in this country; a raucous cry would go up if it were denied, even if the intention is cold-blooded female foeticide.
The strange obsession to beget a male child makes both men and women blind to reason. Education, it was believed, would rid us of this bias. It hasn't. Educated Indians, 'professionals' as we call them, are known to opt for sex-selective foeticide. Murder in the womb enjoys social sanction. To pretend otherwise is but a travesty and a farce.
The distorted sex ratio with its grim social and ethical consequences that is emerging bears testimony to this fact. Yet nobody is bothered to look beyond a horrific incident that shakes us momentarily, a grisly episode that brings to the fore the cruelty that lies dormant within us.
How else do we explain our callous indifference to the increasing incidence of children being abandoned in our cities? The statistics are revealing. For instance, in Delhi alone, according to the police, 134 children were abandoned in 2011, that's 10 more than in 2010.
These figures are contested by NGOs. Pratidhi, which works for the welfare of abandoned children, says it filed an application under the Right to Information Act and found that 745 children were abandoned in Delhi in 2010.
Seventy per cent of the abandoned children are girls, often no more than newborn babies left on railway tracks, in public toilets, at hospitals. Others are left in crowded markets, streets and railway stations. Among the children who are abandoned, most are in the age group of 2 to 4. Destitution is only one of the causes, and not necessarily the overwhelming reason.
I know I'll be courting liberal outrage with this comment, but nonetheless it needs to be stated: A society bereft of moral values, a society not anchored in virtuosity, a society that values materialism more than humanity, cannot be expected to treat its children any better than Falak has been treated.
- The writer is a journalist, political analyst and activist