When a Child Dies

April 12, 2007
Anouradha Bakshi

Bachha Ghat is not a play ground for children; it is the only place where children under three can be set to rest after their death. Hinduism does not allow them to be cremated as it is said that their soul is not connected to their body. This was brought to light in a disturbing and shocking news item aired yesterday on national television.

What one forgets is that what is set to rest is not a few pounds of flesh. What is set to rest is a child, nurtured and loved by its mother, held with pride by its father. What is laid to rest is a set of unfulfilled and crashed dreams, what is laid to rest is a life cut short.

I can speak with authority as I lived all my life under the shadow of a dead brother I never knew, one that lived but a few days on earth but lived in my mother's memory till she breathed her last; a brother who was ever present in my life. I guess my parents were lucky that he was born and died in an alien land. A tombstone marks his brief passage on earth in a Prague cemetery.

I can speak with authority as only a few years ago I scurried around the city with a tiny bundle in my arms looking for a dignified place to lay it to rest. To many it was just a 7 months still born foetus, but for one young mother it was her first child.

I had been summoned to Safdurjung Hospital by a Project Why staff who was admitted there, as this very young mother had gone into a state of shock when she was told to hand over her child so that it could be thrown in the hospital dustbin. She had refused to let go of her baby and sat in catatonic inertia. When I reached the maternity word I just held out my shawl and gently asked the girl to give me her child promising her a dignified send off. She did. That was the beginning of an ordeal I cannot forget.

I took my precious bundle, which for me was above all a mother's love and went to the one place I knew - the Lodhi crematorium - foolishly believing that there must be an option for young children. As we alighted from the three wheeler I could see a bunch of predators (read funeral rites priest) approach us, gauging our worth and probably thinking we were an advance part to some funeral. When they knew what we had come for, they just walked away in disdain, not even listening to our plea. I must thank our stars that no one guided us to Bachha Ghat.

Refusing to give up as my promise had to be honoured, I stood my ground. A few minutes later an elderly man approached us and told us that we could bury the child a little further in the empty grounds that lay ahead. He did not reveal that it was the defecating place of the nearby slums. We found a place that seemed clean. No help was forthcoming from the people that had gathered around so we slowly dug a grave with our bare hands, and lay the little child to rest, wrapped in its shawl, and carefully laid stones on the grave and placed the few flowers we had brought with us.

Yesterday's news item brought back this forgotten day.

We are a city busy building malls and expressways; we are a city displacing the poor with impunity; we are a city busy widening the gap between rich and poor and yet this incident shows that at least in death rich children and poor children are treated the same way.

The said TV channel held a discussion on this shocking reality and once again we witnessed the birth of a new polemic with all the necessary ingredients for endless debates for all: politicians, opposition, religious leaders, the judiciary, the newly empowered citizen groups et al.

But as the debate goes on, more children will find their way to the Baccha Ghat while the city will be busy for 2010, a red letter day for many. Today's world is for the living rich, not for the dead and least of all for the poor.

eXTReMe Tracker
Keep reading for comments on this article and add some feedback of your own!

Comments! Feedback! Speak and be heard!

Comment on this article or leave feedback for the author

April 12, 2007
12:47 AM

That's the most awful, barbaric thing I ever heard. I need to ask my aunt what happened to her baby when she died.

April 12, 2007
03:26 AM

How ghastly! I feel sick!

the mad momma
April 12, 2007
08:30 AM

I have no words for this... how can we all have been unaware of something like this? Every little soul deserves to rest in peace...

April 12, 2007
08:54 AM

it's the same among the christians too i think,if the child isn't baptised it doesn't get a decent burial.Why didn't you look for electric crematoriums ?

April 13, 2007
01:06 AM

Sometimes it makes you wonder if people have any humanity at all.

April 13, 2007
01:11 AM

make sure you bury deep,you don't want the stray dogs playing around with a severed head and all

Add your comment

(Or ping: http://desicritics.org/tb/5043)

Personal attacks are not allowed. Please read our comment policy.

Remember Name/URL?

Please preview your comment!