Monday, 27 April 2009

A wake-up call from Rubina

When Salim and Jamal board a train to escape from the crooks in Danny Bole’s Slumdog Millionaire, they leave Lathika behind who is sold and she ends up in the red light area of Mumbai. In real life too, Rubina, who plays young Lathika, according to a sting operation conducted by News of the World, was in the line of being sold by her father, Rafiq Queeshi, to their journalists who posed as agents for a buyer from the Middle East.
While the incident has created considerable noise, we would like to look into two important aspects. First is that human trafficking, especially that of girls, is a crime so common that many of us are inured into a sort of acceptance and acquiescence. From beggar girls to part-time maids, labourers to child brides, from the acrobat in the circus to the girl in the local bar -- child trafficking is a crime that is often ignored, thanks to the lack of stringent laws and shoddy enforcement. A predominant notion that ‘children-do-not-have-rights’ and that they do not command a share in the vote bank politics of the day is best reflected in the fact that only 0.034 per cent of the Union budget (2005-’06) was allocated for the protection of children, who constitute more than 35 per cent of our population (Census 2001). A telling example of the helplessness and sheer volume of the problem we are facing is reflected in the Delhi government’s estimate in 2006 that in the city alone there were close to 7,00,000 girls working as maids.
Second is the sting by one of Britain’s most notorious tabloids. The journalists who conducted the sting will obviously feel good about it (they’ve created news, after all), but media houses need to ask whether exploiting the vulnerability of the underprivileged to create a sensation is what it’s all about. The tabloid that has pulled a quick one with a sure bait in the process was just reinforcing a stereotype that “Shockingly, this sort of transaction is far from unusual in an impoverished nation where human life comes cheap and children are often treated as a commodity. (NOTW)”
Journalism should not stoop to cater to satiate the voyeuristic exigencies of a section of the society that prefer paparazzi reporting. That the poor are lured into this net of trafficking is a fact and Rafiq happened to be among them.When stories such as Rubina’s catch the headlines, the first thing should be a prompt response from the government. So it is good to note that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is taking cognisance of the issue, but what about the millions of Rubinas who are forced into child marriage, camel jockeying and drug pushing?