Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Perils of hasty reaction

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By Shishir Joshi

A little boy, his skin darkened by hours in the sun, dark skinned. Visibly unkempt. Clasping the grills of a tiny, unlit room. A cage. Caged?

“How inhuman can anyone be?” “Barbarians.” “Can we report this matter to someone”? “Is there no other way to treat a child but this way?” I have heard many-a-reaction when people accompanying me first set their eyes on him. The reactions have been no different when I have shown pictures of the boy in what appears like an iron cage.

The intensity of the reactions vary.  From outrage, to concern, to disgust to sympathy. In favor of Sonu. It is but natural to feel so. We all think with our hearts first And then react. Almost spontaneously. To ask if the reaction is justified, I have no answer. But one can concede that the reaction is not entirely unjustified.  Same, same, but different. We are after all, human.

 But having said that, isn’t the reaction a very micro approach?  Are we not reacting by just one point of view that we have? So, is the reaction then justified?

 What could the larger picture be? If one were to ask. ‘Is it important to look at the larger picture?’ I would think so,  yes.

 Because, the moment we begin to look at it that way, the picture changes. The reaction does too. Reluctantly but yes, gradually.

 Take Sonu’s case for instance. Indeed he was in a cage. No denying that. But, Sonu has a story.

What is Sonu’s story? Sonu is a little-over-six years,  naughty boy. As naughty as a six year old can be. If not more. He is the apple of the eyes of residents of Somnath, a project set up by Baba Amte, in Chandrapur district in Maharashtra. Somnath is an extension of Baba Amte’s leprosy eradication project in Anandwan. Sonu though, is not here for leprosy treatment.

Somnath is often the venue for annual youth camps where thousands from all walks of life converge for social work. Little Sonu was rescued a couple of years ago, off a railway track where he was reportedly thrown by his parents. He was bundled in a sack and wrapped in barbed wire. Left for dead. A bunch of youngsters en-route to Somnath had seen the bundle and brought him there. For treatment. Initially, just to see if he could live.

 I met Sonu the first time in 2010, during an educational visit to Somnath.

 He had warmly hugged me, then, clutched on to me. He was bare-chested. Not for want of clothes, but, the barbed wire wrap had left bitter scars on his mind and every time he was made to wear a shirt, he would tear it off.

 But he roamed about freely, chatting with strangers and following every warm response that got extended. Almost like a cute little pup,

 Following people by sound and smell. Because Sonu was blind. By birth. One of the key reasons he had been abandoned by his parents and left on the tracks. For dead.

When we met Sonu first, in 2010, he could barely mumble a sentence in full.  One year later, in February we met Sonu again.

 A little older. Naughtier than last year, He had stopped tearing off his clothes. He had begun wishing people politely and would engage them in conversation. Talking nineteen to the dozen. He had also begun eating. On time.

 Somnath incidentally is a large expanse of land, splattered with a few homes here and many a fields there. But, skirting a massive jungle. Somnath is in the middle of nowhere, and the residents spend their day in the fields cultivating or in workshops. At night people rush indoors, because among the uninvited visitors are jungle cats and others from the wild.

Until Sonu could find his ground in Somnath, last year, his soft fingers never let go of any adult hand. His insecurities got the better of him. Today, he is older. Wiser. And naughtier. More confident.

 He seldom holds on to a finger for long. His handicap of vision notwithstanding, he zips around the village often making it impossible for the not so young residents of Somnath to catch up or catch him. Hence, they keep him occasionally in this little room.

 We see it as a cage. From where we have come. They see it as their own little way of keeping little Sonu safe. From the wilds. Or uncertainties which loomed around.

Till the time they return and spend their meaningful time with him. He is their tomorrow.

 Following our hearts, it is so easy to react. Impromptu. The sight of a little boy in a cage is enough to pick up the phone to alert “social vigilantes” and little Sonu would have been taken to a remand home.  For what we would have thought is a better life than he is currently leading. But is that really so?

 Have you even wondered what life in a remand home could be like? Would it not be better to spend an evening with Sonu and hear him squeal with laughter at the sound of feet returning from the fields? Rather than jumping the heart-gun and remanding him to ‘official’ custody? Just because you felt that was right?

 Very often, we jump to conclusions, seldom stepping back to look at the larger picture. Being judgmental. Being the judge. Not realizing whether the statement or our reaction is a qualified one or not.

 We react to a situation, verbal or non verbal, without realizing how it may impact or affect others. An immediate reaction need not always be harmful. But, at times, it can be harmful. Because, the impact can be cascading.  Sometimes, just a sorry never works.

 As I said earlier, it is not unjustified to react the way we do. But, look at the larger picture and think. Is it justified?

We are human and to feel a high or go through a low is but natural. But, our reactions also impact many other lives. Those are collateral damages that we are liable for.

My view: The next time you are about to react hastily, think that your hurry may result in one Sonu being sent to a remand home. Maybe, it will help you sit back and look at the larger picture.

Post script: Here is a clarification and due credit given to a reader who commented and hence brought to my notice that Sonu has been caged behind an iron grilled room. The reasons are two. The option of a wood (or softer) structure could have been there but it has time and again been found unsafe from a strongly built wild cat on the prowl. Hence, the iron-grilled option.

 Secondly, this is not a cage ‘built’ for little Sonu. It’s a sort of store room. It faces the road within the Somnath campus where several people pass constantly. So, rather than keep Sonu in a secluded room (in isolation) all day, he is now in a room where he can talk and chat with passers-by and his extended family across in the fields.

 Lastly, this is not a room where he is kept from dawn to dusk. Anytime any of his “local guardians” are back during the day, he joins them again.

Point to be noted. Somnath is not an urban hot spot. Resources are scarce. Residents are largely senior citizens. Few young people opt to go there for a living.  Hence, the residents have not much choice but to make do with available options.

((Mumbai based Shishir Joshi is Journalist and Mentor and co-founder of JM foundation for Excellence in Journalism, Mumbai. He can be reached on shishirj@ journalism. org.in)

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