RESPOND TO THE CHALLENGE OF THE CHILD
The character and quality of a nation is determined by how its children are fed and educated for tomorrow. Free India must learn a lesson from that India-hater, Winston Churchill, who, in his country’s gravest hour, still insisted: “There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies”. We as a nation are so busy with adult agenda of personal relevance that milk for the infant and nutrition for the expectant mother, both below the bread line, must wait till it is too late. We have time only to quarrel about corruption – that perennial pragmatism of politician.
The harrowing tale of our neglected children is too tearful for words. They are the most deprived part of humanity, ill-fed and ill-clad, with little literacy and negligible chances of a decent life. They are victims of vices and moral lapses, of broken homes and juvenile crimes. We need militant laws to compel the State to nurture the neglected millions crowding in our towns and cities to pick food from garbage cans, sleep nude in the open and live like stray animals in the streets. Beggary Abolition Act gives Indian children stones, not bread! Asked Jesus: What man is there of you, if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?” There are many of that species in the present-day India.
Rights begin with viable life in the womb. So we must protect the child in the womb, legitimate or illegitimate. Every baby is innocent. Bernard Shaw was once asked: “Do you believe in Immaculate Conception?” He replied: “I believe every conception is immaculate”. There is now a UN Declaration against branding children illegitimate. But our system of inheritance and maintenance, despite our ancient and hallowed illegitimate greats, is discriminatory, in most personal laws, against the illegitimate child
Every month almost one lakh Indian children die as a direct result of malnutrition. As even greater number die due to infectious diseases which, could have been cured but for the lowered resistance of the malnourished children. A whole spectrum of sorrows remains to be exposed, a whole saga of blood, toils, sweat and tears remains to be lived down. Until then, there is only one criminal – the society.
The first task of social justice is to save the throw-away babies who today grow up in the world of beggars and vagrants and crippled crooks, and are often pushed into crime by a society which is the criminal number one.
Our founding fathers, dreaming of a brave new Bharat and its tryst with destiny, laid down the great testament of the Constitution where the value vision for future generations was projected. Deep concern for the material and moral welfare of the juvenalia of India is underscored and social injustice anathematised. Universal primary education is assured. Freedom from labour during tender age is mandated. Special care for children’s health and growth is a first charge
Let me not be misunderstood as being negative. We have positive gains on the credit side. Our national policy on the mother and child has been spelt out in the Fundamental Law, Articles 15(3), 24, 39(e) and 45, sum up this policy. More importantly, in the backward milieu of our country, the very affirmation of equal access and non-discrimination on account of sexes and castes is a Magna Carta for the child, female and backward but innocent and sinned against. For, most parents
are destitutes and down-and-outs, unlettered and under-nourished, and their babies are the most numerous.
The Children’s Hour is with us. But the law must take militant haste to sensitise itself and speak up. The ‘miles to go’ syndrome must be overcome. The Indian State should secure ‘a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of national life.’ But our environment is such that expectation darkens into anxiety, anxiety into dread and dread into despair.
Mother and Child go together and the economic march to a non-exploitative society is impossible without economic welfare for the mother and investment in the infant. Nobel laureate Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda wrote in 1945: “We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but the worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer “tomorrow”. His name is “Today”.
Let us respond to the challenge of the child to inaugurate justice to the young – Today, not Tomorrow.
The child should become the nation’s central interest and child welfare should no longer be treated as an administrative decoration but love and labour for the lovely gifts of God – our supreme asset.
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