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They are our children too

Though the police have acted swiftly in the Arya Orphanage case, we should have cared much more.

india Updated: Feb 26, 2012 23:07 IST
Arpita Das

Here I was all set to write a flippant although heartfelt piece on how we work doubly hard to keep our kids ‘oblivious’ of anything even remotely sexual in books, cinema and conversation although violence is okay. Then the Arya Orphanage story broke, and I found myself paralysed while trying to write the article I was already working on. The details of the case, as they emerged, kept me up at night, even as I scoured the papers in the morning for more heartbreaking revelations.

The complete erosion of trust that these abused children had experienced, not to speak of the pain and humiliation they had faced, is probably going to stay with them for life — and perhaps even make future perpetrators of abuse out of them, as we saw in the case of the 14-year-old boy who raped an 11-year-old girl who died subsequently.

Gradually though, what started worrying me was the fact that while the papers were doing a fair job of reporting the incident and its particularly ghastly details, I found hardly any opinion pieces on the subject. Social networking sites seemed strangely quiet on the subject as well. I searched in vain for #AryaOrphanage on Twitter. Why was our usually voluble twitterati — the section of the middle class that considers itself as the only one that matters — not discussing this appalling crime perpetrated successfully for a long time against what appeared to be a shockingly large number of young children between the ages of 10 and 14? Further, why were they not discussing the shameful fact that social and economic debilitation forces many underprivileged parents and single mothers to send their children to live and seek education in ‘orphanages’ even though they are alive and live close by? And the really dismal truth of the situation is that this is only one case that has come to light. It is anyone’s guess how many such sites of unreported crimes against innocent children exist just in Delhi.

It’s evident that there are many details that are yet to come to light. How, for instance, has a well-known and well-endowed south Delhi-headquartered NGO called Smile Foundation, which has been partnering with Arya Orphanage since 2008, been silent or unaware of the goings-on at the institution? What sort of due diligence procedures did Smile Foundation carry out before giving support to the orphanage and naming the institution as its partner?

Is the fact that these kids are not ‘ours’ the reason for such culpable silence on our part? It is well-known that the middle class in India is one of the most desensitised and self-seeking privileged communities we can encounter today. But surely, a crime of this scale in an institution like the Arya Orphanage housing some 1,500 children at one time deserves more vocal condemnation and discussion. And it must happen in a concerted yet independent manner before the incident becomes politicised and just a way for one political party to embarrass another.

It is certainly a matter of relief that the Delhi Police seems to have acted with commendable prescience, collaborating with an NGO (Haq Foundation), which in turn seems to have done a sterling job of making the ‘inmates’ feel secure enough to come out with the exact details of the many crimes committed within the walls of the orphanage compound. However, it seems equally important to me that the community at large should engage in looking within at what responsibility we, as a privileged civil society, must bear when such a large number of children in our midst are treated with such bestial intent.

Arpita Das is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.