Lost on the road, lost amid the COVID-19 count,
Lost in news bytes, lost among trending hashtags,
Lost in recession, lost in stories unspoken—
the lost children of India.
The lockdown of dreams,
ambitions and aspirations—
India 2020 falls apart
into fragments of broken dreams,
fettered wings, muffled voices—
as boys and girls, children and adolescents,
numbed by eerie statistics,
look ahead in despair,
at the long road
of toil and tragedy.
The girl child—
the proverbial sheep,
raised as a ‘burden’, raised with dowry price—
is now back in the kitchen,
preparing meals and cleaning dishes,
the hands that were counting numbers and
writing essays in English and environment
are now back to the grind of patriarchy—
making round chapatis—
and sharing leftover food with her younger sister.
Who will pay for her books now?
Who will give her a smartphone for online classes?
Didn’t her brother say
she uses her phone to chat with boys?
Will her family send her back to school?
But didn’t she hear her father
discussing a cheap marriage ceremony for her
in the close and quick of lockdown?
Ah, the looming evil of child marriage—
now back with a resounding logic,
is ready to push India’s gender equity
twenty years back in time.
With schools shut,
mid-day meals scrapped,
and locked at homes with
children who are victims of domestic violence,
sexual abuse and harassment,
are cut off from corrective care;
Are helplines healing enough?
Cheap cloth replacing sanitary napkins
in the pandemic of unavailability,
Cut portions and dry hope
replacing iron supplements
in the pandemic of unavailability;
no right to respectful care—
an unhealthy prologue
to the pandemic of apathy.
Yet, the young dreams on–
one wants to rap, another break into
one wants to be a reality TV star,
another a gymnast,
one a scientist, a YouTuber,
a pilot, an English language teacher,
another a news anchor.
But no country for children this—
faces painted with agony in lockdown;
a boy dragged atop a suitcase,
a newborn delivered on roadside,
children scavenging around for
two-square meals a day,
a child labouring at a hazardous factory
only to survive abuse at home,
the rising toxicity in the air suffocating
their spirit and sangfroid.
Robbed of rights and respect,
denied access and dignity,
millions of millennial lives
are being cast in the script of a shadow pandemic;
Reduced to footnotes of reports
and anecdotes of history;
The song of sorrow speaks in a thousand mutiny
only to be crushed by the regiments of power.
Sanhati Banerjee is a Kolkata-based independent journalist.