The Indian child has always been the subject of numerous studies. There are countless theories and fact files trying to make themselves heard over the bureaucratic assurances that all is well. The Indian child is in the spotlight internationally too. But really, how involved is India in the change that they are demanding?
Let us not look at the begging and the trafficking, the illegal labour and the abuse. No, let’s leave that aside and focus on something that is unnerving in its terrifying and silent magnitude. The estimates show that in the year 2020, India will be the youngest country to have large portions of its population as victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This makes it a truly horrifying thought.
The situation is grim not only because of the spread of the virus among adults but also because it is devouring Indian children steadily. Statistics show that the number of HIV positive children is uncannily high and the numbers are particularly worrisome as they continue to grow year after year. As per the latest data, every year more than 23,000 children are infected by mother to child transmission; which is cause for 4% of the total incidence of transmission of HIV/AIDS; and nearly 33% of the reported cases till June 2005 were in the age group of 15 to 29 years.
The virus takes its toll on young people in more ways than simply biologically. These statistics only tell us about infection and direct impact and hence there’s no accounting for the vague numbers of youngsters who give up their innocence to care for infected parents and family members. They face severe social consequences and make for easy targets of discrimination. In 2007, of the 2.1 million people that died of HIV/AIDS, more than one of seven were children.
Most of these statistics mean nothing to outsiders to this situation because the numbers do not have faces, they are anonymous and they are spectral, like hazy apparitions that deserve attention for a mere fleeting moment during a lifetime. What we, as outsiders, do not see is that for children, losing a parent or family member is traumatic on many planes. The death and its immediate aftermath are but the fundamental causes of hardship. Beyond that, there is the rejection of those children for being associated with the disease. They are turned away from orphanages and public health facilities. They are refused education and they become the products of a vicious cycle of stigmatisation and abuse, neglect and manipulation, poverty and disease.
The government has made proclamations and framed policies. There are councils and boards of control and awareness. It is my belief that these arms of the bureaucracy deserve little or no mention here as their contribution to alleviate the condition of this segment of infected population has been equally nebulous.
We, as a nation, and as a part of the democratic mechanism of this government see HIV/AIDS as a malady of adults and the older sections of the demographic. We manage to believe that AIDS babies are children who have lost family to the monster. We do not see them as persons, individuals suffering from it.
The distance of the non-sufferers from the sufferers is more than biological. It is social, it is political, and it is economical: it is as multi-faceted as the distinctions between every social stratum; both ancient and otherwise. For the people that are not directly affected by this allegedly urban (as according to the rural population) and rural (in the righteous opinion of urban India) phenomenon, it is a distant demon looming on the far horizon. People believe that the bridge will be crossed once we reach it. What we do not realise that we are in the middle of the bridge and it is fast starting to crumble underneath the collective feet of the Indian society. Yes, India is but one drop in the ocean of this global calamity. Yes, India is but a part of the sum. But what we cannot deny is that fighting this demon begins at the lowest rung. We need to fight it upward, from the smallest unit of the family; whether infected, affected or not; to the country, to the world. Why? Because, we are the world!