Remembering children of riot affected families on Children’s Day

Study reveals the terrified children in relief camps badly need social, emotional and administrative support

By Nikhat for

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November 14th marks the birth anniversary of Chacha Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Sovereign, Socialist, Secular and Democratic republic of India. This day is auspicious as it is commemorated as Children’s Day because of his love, affection and care towards children of the world and of India, specifically. Therefore, Children’s Day is a day when the entire India (including government) reaffirms their promise of love and care to her children, the future of country, irrespective of their casteist, religious, linguistic, regional, racial and communal identities.

People of this country including the schools and media across the country are trying to commemorate this day in creative and unique manner. Schools are busy holding literary and cultural events and media is busy in talk shows. In this business, do we really remember the children in conflict in our country and in the world? Or they just remain an untold chapter of history of war and peace? A question worth exploration became a difficult one for us, the citizens of the largest democracy.

Interesting to note here that, we had enacted one of the most important legislations of the time i.e. the Right to Education Act, this year. This law is an epoch in the welfare history of India, when we including State, resolved to take care of educational needs of India’s future i.e. children. It is definitely a gift to them and tribute to our chacha… chacha Nehru. How it will render a helping hand to such children is a challenge and an opportunity to prove strength of Indian democracy.
Coming back to the children in and after conflict, we as a country are not free from conflicts and in the recent past we severely got trapped in this global phenomenon, be it in the name of ethnicity, caste, terror and counter terror. Any such list would be a non exhaustive one. The fallouts of any conflict of are not less than nuclear fallout of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in to a long lasting or rather never ending illness.

Gujarat genocide- 2002 is a big example of the same, as it left behind survivor… children survivors, orphaned, home less, completely abandoned and uprooted from their context and forced to live in a new context, context of deprivation, ghettoisation and alienation. It had divided the society enormously and so it divided the children. Keeping this in mind, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the report of its Special Rapporteur Mr. Nampoothiri, Mr. Gagan Sethi (Member of NHRC’s Monitoring Team) and others expressed their distress on the state’s cold response to the special needs, especially of the survivor children and even after repeated directions of the NHRC, the state government had not made any effort to provide emotional and psychological rehabilitation such as post trauma counseling etc.

In the words of Mr. Gagan Sethi, “the nation which can’t care its children will not survive tomorrow; therefore, I am so worried about today that they can not look beyond their nose. The worst form of child abuse happened when we made thousand of children homeless during 2002 carnage and not one State agency came forward to take care of them, in contrast to what it did during the earth quake. Such schizophrenia can only happen in Gujarat.” This statement of his, aptly describes the socio-political situation, in which the survivors of pogrom 2002 have been pushed to live with perpetual pain and agony.

A study done by Mr. Ravi Priya (IIT- Kanpur) with an object of understanding the mental health needs of the children suffering from the adversities produced by the traumatic event such as Gujarat Pogrom-2002. It is based on the experiences of suffering of children and on one hand and experiences of support and wellbeing on the other hand.

The study was conducted on 102 children (boys and girls) of 5 and 6 standards, who witnessed the violence, killing, rapes, mayhem and vandalism of highest degree. Many of them are displaced, living in make shift relief colonies, have nobody to care at home since some family members are no more in the riots and available member hardly want to spend some time with them.

In the course of study, children were told to draw a ‘self’ and ‘some other person’ on a blank sheet of paper and also to write their immediate feelings around words like ma (Mother), gussa (Anger), pyar (Love), tum (You), ghar (Home), dar (fear) , bharat (India), kharab (Bad), hum (We), khatra (Danger/threat), khush (happy) and dharm (Religion).

It had revealed that the children, who had undergone this test, expressed general experiences of fear and threat, loneliness separation (from loved ones), support (through relationship) and positive thoughts and experience.

Response like hum khatre me pad chuke hain (we are facing danger/threat) coupled with darte hain (I am afraid) has been interpreted as the feeling of generalized feeling of fear or threat (i.e., anxiety in clinical terms).
To open it up in little more detail, experiences like yahan khatra hai, dar lagta hai, aage khatra hai, ghabra gai etc. indicates strong sense of fear and threat, similarly, responses like akela hun, alag baithna acchha nahin lagta, akele me achchha nahin lagta, akele dar lagta hai, akela pad gaya etc. hints to deep feeling of loneliness; and even further, expressions such as main meri ma se alag ho gaya, dost se bichud gaya, ma yaad aati hai etc. connotes feeling of separation from the loved ones.

On the other hand, responses like ma pyar karti hai, mummy-papa khush hain, hum sath hain, tum khush ho, tum ham sath hain, hum dost hain etc. indicate support (through relationship) and also, expressions like pyar batna, mera bharat mahan, khush khabar, ghar me ma baap achcha kam karte hain, mere dada mujhe bahut pyar karte hain etc. indicates positive thought and experiences of child.

Also, a contextual understanding of the difference between drawings of images of ‘self’ and ‘some other person’ has been interpreted as strong indication of experiences like, feelings of deprivation, fear and also sadness (or depression in psychiatric terms).

This definitely is an alarming situation as far as the mental health of the children is concerned. They are in urgent need of more social, administrative (e.g., housing and sanitation) and emotional support rather than material support (simply material and financial support in the aftermath of a disaster has shown a strong phenomenon of dependency among the survivors). However, there seems to some light at the end of the tunnel as the children also show signs of adherence to values, sense of support in relatedness either with peers, teachers or family members, which may be due to the value education provided to them at an NGO run special school called Meghdhanush (Rainbow). Many such models need to be mainstreamed and adopted by the government, if it at all wants to make Children’s Day a special day for every child all the time.
This is still a due on the part of the government to respect its constitutional and international obligations towards these children. Till the time, Children’s day would seem just an event for them and not a promise of love and care.