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Ethnographies of Childhood

Nandita Chaudhary

By Deepak Kumar Behera
Pearson Longman, Delhi, 2007, pp. 397, price not stated.


Every once in a while human life expresses itself in ways that funda-mentally transforms prevalent images of what it means to be human in any given society. The vulnerability to and dependence of young children on adults often leaves them incapable of avoiding or resisting exploitation, abuse and even death. The discovery of the kidnapping, killing and sexual abuse of young children in the recent Nithari episode (December, 2006) in NOIDA, a suburb of Delhi, has brought home the double- edged vulnerability of children from poor families to crime by individuals and apathy of the system. Perhaps this has revealed the extent to which individual aggression and administrative apathy can destroy the image of childhood as a carefree and innocent period to be cherished and nurtured amidst warmth and love. The individual vulnerability of children is enhanced under conditions of poverty and migrant status. Although the convictions in this case have yet to be made, there is no doubt that the police stayed unimpressed as tens of children went missing in the economically weaker neighbourhood. The crude remarks of a policeperson quoted by a newspaper as having said in response to a parent of a missing child, ‘If you cannot take care of them, why have them?’ brings home the stark dismissal of the young child from a poor family.   This systemic and organized abuse of young children by acts of omission and commission are a reprobate reality in our society today. This attitude prevails despite the ideological regard of children as divine, innocent and blessed according to ancient tradition. The corresponding boom in the economy in the region provides another reason to address issues related to children and families afresh, especially for those in difficult circumstances. As a civilized society, we have perhaps, seriously failed to integrate the traditional images into our everyday understanding of childhood. We are much more comfortable using these symbols within the privacy of our own families, for the welfare of our ‘own’ children. Our children are to be loved and cherished, fed and clothed. The low public interest and responsibility for children are reflected in state policy. One can perhaps argue that public consciousness in India could easily be classified as ‘schizophrenic’ in this regard. Children’s issues are viewed as a private matter, whether it is care of children with working mothers, children at work, health care, school experience, or children with disability, as ...

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