I really don’t understand what sort of creatures we are. Us people.
Watching helpless little pint-sized babies die with cold indifference. P was three years old when a shuddering, panic-stricken nurse, with armpit high gloves and three sheets of distance between ‘it’ and herself, brought him to the care-home. Swathed in three dirty sheets lay a half smothered baby weighing six miserable little kilograms with a stomach so distended that he couldn’t stand on his legs. P had tuberculosis. P was severely under-nourished. P was HIV positive.
Six kilograms. That’s less than the weight of all the food we consume in one week.
A government official responsible for education in a high-prevalence state said that children shouldn’t be told about sex. They don’t know what it is. If we tell them, they will get corrupted.
D is one of the many little boys living on the street who can’t understand why E didi and her friends talk about safe sex and protection when there are no small-size condoms available. “Didi how are we to protect ourselves then?” E has no answer. Governments don’t talk about these things.
The Chief Minister of a northern state announced a few years ago that his state had “nothing to do with HIV”.
S is thirteen years old. Everyday he must take his medicines at 7am and at 7pm. The other day he saw a bollywood film on TV with his adopted brothers. S thinks the heroine is very beautiful. He wonders who he’s going to marry. But then immediately, like any other football-obsessed thirteen year old he dismisses the idea. Who likes girls anyway? R is relieved that she doesn’t have to talk to him about relationships and sex right away… but for how much longer can she hold off telling him how his HIV status is going to play a large part in his relationships?
K was just eight when she watched her mother die in pain. Then her aunt took her home. But the neighbours started saying things. K’s aunt realised that her own children would suffer if she allowed K to live with them. K was abandoned without ceremony.
K wants to go back to her aunt’s house, but she doesn’t know the address.
Watch your parents die in misery.
Get told you’re a dirty diseased ill-omened child.
Get told that you will die, before you’ve learnt to live.
Get thrown out on the road.
Get slapped, kicked, pushed.
Most children affected by HIV are pushed out of their houses once they are orphaned. There is no foster-care system here. With the kind of discrimination involved and the cost of medication, very few are taken in by relatives. Government-run care-homes turn children living with HIV away as they claim they are ill-equipped to handle opportunistic diseases. Fewer still have access to health care. Most end up on the road where they must adapt to street brutality – emotional, physical and sexual.
Nobody talks about them. Nobody talks to them. Arses like us sit in cars and watch them at traffic lights begging for money. We have many notions – about the kind of money they make by begging; about how all of this is a racket; about how they just use the money to buy drugs.
Arses like us also talk about the magic of childhood.