Update on the boy I had blogged about on Saturday - the one who narrowly escaped being picked up by the police and being bumped off. One of the girls from the programme took him to a shelter today, and while he is not too happy about swapping the street for a shelter, he has promised to give it a try. He's so shaken up right now, he will stay - the challenge would be to make sure he remains there.
We've been talking about little else at work this week. And apparently this incident is not as uncommon in my country as I would like to believe. Such stories rarely get reported, and get buried or killed even if they do appear, so the vast majority of us who lead rather sheltered lives never get to hear of it. But the people who actually work with marginalised children insist there are horrors worse than this - if worse than this, I don't think I can even stomach it.
The issue is not poverty per se, at least not current, personal poverty. The boys who sell books at traffic lights make a decent living - their earnings are almost double that of a person who is just above the official poverty line, and all the money they earn is theirs to spend.
But the root cause of the problem is poverty. Rural and semi-urban poverty. The dearth of employment opportunities that forces boys such as him to catch a train to Bombay in the hope of earning a livelihood in the 'City of Dreams'. The poverty that forces mothers to encourage their boys to leave their homes, so there would be one less mouth to feed.
In the city, they earn a living but they do not leave a trace. Their names get recorded nowhere. It is like they never existed. So when they cease to exist, there is no trace of their having existed at all. Which is why the boys with uncles and cousins were spared- their families would ask questions, could create a stink. But one boy looking for another can be easily dismissed.
What we would try to do is to document these boys. Capture their identity, comment on their existence. That is not much security - if people make the kids disappear, they can also tell us that the kids have gone back home without leaving an address - but is it better than nothing at all. After all, there is little else anyone can do.
And my boy?
He was in office yesterday, and to distract him, even if only momentarily, I commented on the wrist bands that he was wearing.
"Didi, they glow in the dark", he informed me.
"Really?", I said.
"Yes, didi", he replied, slipping a bright pink bracelet off his wrist. "Take this. You will see how nicely it glows in the night."
Maybe if I keep the bracelet on, he will be safe.
The bracelet has 'PRIDE' inscribed on it. He can't read it, but I can. After hearing his story, I am proud to know him.