Thursday, February 01, 2007

My Frist Big India Confrontation

My second week in India is rapidly drawing to a close and I have to say that I am feeling more and more at home and at ease here. Not to say I don’t have my difficult moments or moments where I am confronted with horrific situations and circumstances. There was one event that happened last Saturday and before I explain what happened, I just want to make clear that I know this kind of thing happens in very city and every town across the globe and is, unfortunately not something limited by the borders of one country or culture, so this is in no way a judgment on a country or a population, but merely an event as I witnessed and internalized it…

I was in Connaught Place to meet a friend for a coffee and I got there rather early which gave me some time to kill. It was Republic Day, so the shops were closed for the most part and the place was about as deserted as any place in central Delhi would ever be. A woman came up to me begging for money. On her hip was a child of I would estimate about 1 year or so old. A tiny little child that was whining a bit and the mother kept pointing to her child, to her stomach and asking for money. I only had big bills on me (what would be less than 2 euro back home) and I didn’t want to take out my wallet and flash a lot of money, and I am also torn at times between helping someone and perpetuating a problem. She kept begging for about 5 minutes, and I was just dying inside. I felt so guilty and yet I stuck to my decision not to give any money.

A few minutes later the woman sat down on a bench not to far from me and put her child on the ground. Her baby started to lie down and the woman sat the child up and smacked the baby across the face so hard that the impact just cut through me. I was stunned, speechless, horrified and completely unable to do anything. I felt it was my fault the baby was getting punished. I felt as if she was punishing the child for not making me feel guilty enough, or for not crying enough that I would give her money. I could not and can not get that image out of my head. I was so caught in a place of not knowing what to do and knowing I could do nothing and yet desperate for a solution. I didn’t want to make the situation worse for the child but I felt so terrible and so responsible for what happened.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine later that evening and he explained that it is actually illegal to give money to the beggars. It is not enforced, but officially, one can be fined for giving money. Also, I learned that condoms are free in India, or at least in certain cities if not the country, which then raises the question of why someone would have a child knowing what life they would be bringing that child into. Knowing that not only can they not provide for themselves, but that child is going to take even more food away. I still think about that baby every day. I have his or her face etched in my mind and I don’t think I will ever forget it. What I find so frustrating, more than anything else, is that there really is nothing I can do. Kindness or money are not going to solve any issues. There are millions more just like her, millions more babies just like that one, some in even worse situations. Of all the things to adjust to in India, the children is really the part that just tears me into pieces. I want to make it all better, but there is nothing I can do.

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