Saturday, June 30, 2007

No time for exploited child
Amita MalikAmita Malik

Recently, the whole world, including India, observed Anti-Child Labour Day. It could more aptly have been named Child Labour Day because India was at the top as far as cruel and illegal form of child exploitation is concerned. The harrowing pictures shown of little ill-clad, dishevelled, half-starved children sent away from poor homes to earn some sort of a living in dirty dhabas, domestic homes and carpet-weaving and embroidery industries sent a chill down the spine. It made one feel ashamed. And as a TV writer I could not help asking: What is TV doing to create public awareness where it matters most? It is a well-known fact that family planning has succeeded most with affluent families. The polio campaign, in spite of the inevitable Amitabh Bachchan tag, has failed miserably with certain sections of society and in certain areas due to a wrong interpretation of religion.

Independent channels should give their prime time slots to highlight the burning social problems, particularly child exploitation, that face the country today

In recent times we have had the example of Budhia,the child marathon runner of Orissa. According to health and child welfare experts, it is said to be very bad for young bodies. But on TV, we see his guardian and trainer, and his poverty-stricken mother arguing on his behalf. One of the most shattering cases of lack of explaining and education where it is needed most has been in the matter of HIV AIDS.

This very week there has been the unfortunate case of parents of normal children withdrawing their wards from school because five HIV positive children have been admitted even though medical science says they cannot infect anybody. But after the school expelled them, the law came to their rescue and they were readmitted. The other parents have again refused to send their children back to school and some extremely tricky negotiations are going on. It seems that the beautiful song, Haath Mila Doh with lyrics by Javed Akhtar, has failed to make an impact.

Poor people do not necessarily have or watch TV. And perhaps the song was too subtle for the hard lesson to sink in.

Worst of all, in recent times there have been cases of exploitation of so-called young geniuses by their fond and greedy parents. That a 15-year-old boy was encouraged by his doctor-parents to perform a Caesarian operation was a medical and legal crime and the law is now taking its course. That a video of this terrible case was destroyed but luckily shown first to medical colleagues who have come forward to testify is some relief. But all in all, it is one of the worst examples of child exploitation. The father who encouraged his tiny son to drive a car in heavy traffic was another case in point.

However, let me come to my main point: With all the devices within its control, TV seems to have failed to help the exploited child. Evidently, those studio-based audience participation programmes, which include only educated people, have not been able to send down their messages to lower classes, city and town jhuggi and basti dwellers and to villagers. It is high time that independent channels reinforced the sincere but rather feeble efforts of Doordarshan, which at least propagates government policies.

I watched Krishi Darshan, the only agricultural programme on TV which was on DD recently, and felt a little better. Even intrepid reports of the likes of Radhika Bordia, Sutapa Deb and Shikha Trivedi, who go to remote corners of the country and dig out important social evils, are not given prime time. On the other hand, undue publicity is given to the star anchors who dominate the small screen with their fancy clothes and their self-propagation.

It is time the so-called independent channels start highlighting the burning social problems that face the country today.