When somebody asked me about my politics (was I right, left, liberal, anarchist?), without thinking much about why, I responded by saying, "My politics is children".
Part of this was rooted in the fact that I'd been trying to write about child protection for nearly three months, and was at the moment trying to determine whether it was 17 skulls and 22 dismembered skeletons they're found in that drain in my city's backyard, or was it 18, or was it 38?
In our country - a young country, we proudly say - there is too much of everything. Too many babies. Too much crime. Too much bureaucracy. Too many religions and castes. Too many languages. Too much abuse. Too much poverty. Too much filth. Too much to bear, almost.
When children, one by one, disappear, and the police does not bother, it is too much to forgive. It took, at the very least, 22 children and the finding of their hacked-up bodies to jumpstart an investigation. It may have taken 38.
But, you see, children do go missing. They run away; they're kidnapped; they lose their way home; they go looking for adventure, or better food. And there are so many of them that we don't pay attention. On our street signals. Selling papers, books, flowers, pens, balloons, art. In our restaurants, waiting on us. And in our homes. On our streets, begging. In our red-light districts, being raped. In our disaster-struck villages, orphaned. They're everywhere. Millions of them, with about 45,000 being added to the 'missing' lists every year.
That's right. Forty-five thousand.
These are the ones that fall off our collective maps, because their skeletons are not found, stuffed into drains. They just vanish into the dark hole that is our streets, the fortress of our homes, the war-zone that is our international human trafficking rings. And melt into a pool of 35 million.
That's right. Thirty-five million.
These millions are, what the government of India collectively calls, 'children in need of protection'. Defined by the ministry of social justice and empowerment as children in 'extremely difficult circumstances', they include children in conflict with the law, victims of crime or natural disasters, orphaned, abandoned or runaway children, rescued child labourers, trafficked children, amongst others.
Children who, however briefly, are nobody's; and therefore, ours. To be cared for by the state, or state-supported institutions/organisations.
The next few posts will take a look at how we deal with these numbers. Our children.