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In Solidarity With Beloved Weeping Mother India
I watched with great interest the film documentary, Mother India: Life through the Eyes of the Orphan (2012). With 31,000,000 orphans in India, this film invites us briefly into the lives of 25 orphaned or abandoned young people (ages three to 25) who live along the railway in South India. I have been thinking a lot about India, which is suffering intensely from COVID. The world today is sending material aid, blessings and good wishes to our global neighbours, our sisters and brothers in India.
David Trotter and Shawn Scheinoha, who made the documentary, first traveled to Tenali (Andhra Pradesh), population three hundred thousand, in 2004. We meet Geetha, Reddy, Nagareju, Lakshmi, Kotegwari, Polayya, Yellapah, Satkyananda, Aadamma, Yesu , Abdullabi, Baachir, Chilipada, Raja, Ramu, Sekar, Siva, Gopi, P. Gopi, Hussen, Kiran, Mark, Nageswararao, Nami and Narendra, such exquisite names, shining people worthy of our consideration. David and Shawn interviewed the children and tried to see life through their eyes. The young people sleep together on cement or dirt floors covered in needles and condoms. Some sleep at storefronts. They wrapped themselves in blankets to avoid mosquitoes and to be recognized as an exploitable youth.
The children beg money for food from passing train passengers, sometimes first “cleaning” or sweeping the floor of the carriages, then holding out their hands in exchange for a rupee or two (one or two pence). At the end of the day, they might have a dollar or two to buy food. The leader of the group was the caring Reddy (“I only have my mother; she beat me, so I left. “), in his early 20s but having already lived on the streets for more than 10 years. Reddy would bring the group together to help each other. Lakshmi was abused by a foster parent who burned her with a hot steel rod. When her boyfriend saw her talking to another boy, he forced her to put her hand under the train. She lost two fingers. Crying, she said that she had a baby boy, but that he died three days old. Satkyananda’s parents were killed in a bus accident. Nagareju’s parents beat him, and he ran away. A third of the children were missing a limb, often due to a fall while jumping on the train (train hopping). The children first wanted to show David and Shawn their injuries: missing fingers, hand, arm, leg, deep wounds. That is an important undisguised but usually ignored component of the pain they carried.
“Not above but between”, David and Shawn decide to leave their comfortable, air-conditioned Gotham Hotel room and sleep with the homeless youth on the concrete and dirt floor. They experienced, even just for a night, exposure to the extremely hot weather and a multitude of biting mosquitoes. Waking up early, they saw children huddled together in sleep, a ball of security like a group of puppies, blanketed human mounds. The children brush their teeth at the well with their fingers and powder produced on site by rubbing bricks.
The young people are invited to go to a fair where everyone has some fun and excitement, games, and rides, taking their mind off of constant attention to having to survive. All the children had “bad habits” to cancel out the pain in their sad lives. Some smoked or chewed tobacco, and others, dangerously sharing needles, injected an unknown substance that “took away the sadness.” Some “shuffled” by inhaling fumes from rags soaked in Erazex, a “White-Out” corrective fluid that cost 50 cents, “so as not to feel the pain of police beatings, cold and rain in winter, and mosquito bites.” the grave site of a young man who died of an overdose three weeks earlier is filmed.
The children were sexualized, the older children abused the younger children. Geetha tells the sad story of being sold to the light district, sex for money. Fortunately, two men who recognized him took him back to the youth hostel. Folding her hands in prayer, Geetha says, “I am grateful to these two men.” HIV/AIDS is common among these young people.
However, they have hopes and dreams. Their eyes can still light up. “I want to run my own business and enjoy life like a normal person.” “I want to be a mechanic.” “I want a good house and to get married.” “I want to get a house for myself.” David and Shawn turn to their friends in Harvest India, to place in their main orphanage the two youngest children, siblings, Kotegwari, a seven-year-old girl and Polayya, a three-year-old boy. The group fills a bus and off they go to see the orphanage, where they get haircuts, showers, get new clothes, and taste a delicious meal of chicken, various curries, rice, and yogurt. The children beamed, “walking differently”, with freshness, self-respect and dignity.
Reddy and the children encourage Kotegwari and Polayya to move into the orphanage even though they would not choose to live there. Suresh and Christina Kumar oversee daily operations of Harvest India, a service to, with, and of orphaned, abandoned, unaccompanied children. They provide a home to 1400 children at 26 different locations. Harvest India has been around for over 40 years. Suresh says the discarded children are miserable, suspicious, feeling betrayed, homeless, neglected, no one to talk to, abused, without a mother and father, consumed rather than cared for, exploited rather than loved. Suresh himself grew up in an orphanage where, after his father died young, his mother found work. Suresh and Christina start the process where Kotegwari and Polayya can be adopted by Harvest India.
Reaping India with all the good it does is not without criticism (fair or not) for not being honest about its Christian missionary focus to convert the 74% Hindu and 12% Muslim population (and other minority religions) to Christianity, which is currently only 6% of India’s population. However, this film raises our awareness in mind and heart, influencing our world for the better, small steps towards a potentially great healing.
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