Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Cursed Children of India

What if, the day you were born, instead of rejoicing in your birth, your family connected your birth to a horrific event that happened at around the same time? What if they thought that your birth caused that horrific event, and that you must be cursed? What if they threw you away, and left you to grow up alone, hated and feared by everyone around you?
That horror story is reality for many children in India. Many of them are young girls. In India, it is a widespread belief that, when bad things happen to a person, that person must have done bad things in a former life, and is being punished. When a child's family members, particularly male family members, die, the birth of the child may be blamed, and the child shunned.
For instance, one little girl's father was murdered when the mother was still pregnant with her. By the time the girl was six, her mother had died too, followed by the little girl's brother. The girl was the only one left in her family, and people wondered why. The conclusion they came to was simple. Since the misfortune had begun when the mother was pregnant with the child, the child's very existence must have caused the misfortune. The little girl grew up shuffled among family members. She was an easy scapegoat. Whenever something bad happened to anyone in the family, they blamed the little girl, beating her and punishing her severely in other ways. Eventually, at age twelve, the little girl collapsed on the street and died. Of course many people blamed the "curse" for the girl's death... but in reality, the girl had probably been sick for a long time, and nobody had bothered to get medical help for her. When she died, someone scattered ice cubes around her body, but only one relative, who was visiting from another area and didn't share the rest of the family's beliefs, stayed with the child's body until it was collected.
Another little girl was considered cursed because she had a twin brother who died at birth. The girl lived, but had a mild physical disability. Her family wondered why the girl had lived when the boy hadn't, and ended up blaming the girl for her brother's death. They continued to blame her for every problem in their life, beating her and shunning her, until they eventually sent her away to boarding school. Luckily, she was finally offered a home with her older sister, where she is treated well.
A story with a much better turn-out is the story of the two little boys who had a severe skin condition, causing dry, scaly skin on their arms and legs. The mother had once stepped on a snake when she was pregnant with the older boy, and she and other family members connected that event with the boys' skin. They assumed the boys were cursed. They were not allowed to go to school, and they were beaten and shunned by their family members and neighbors. Luckily an organization called Give India intervened, providing the boys with medical attention for their skin, plus an education, a home, and a family.
These cursed children are everywhere. It may seem that they are more common in the lower rungs of the caste system, because families of higher castes are able to send their own cursed children away to boarding schools. Children with special needs... any type of special needs, even a mild skin condition... are often considered to be cursed. Poorer families hide the cursed children away and abuse them in the privacy of their own homes. Richer families send the children off to boarding school, where they, too, endure lifetimes of abuse and loneliness.
But there is hope. As awareness spreads of the plights of the cursed children, organizations are being created to give these kids a shot at a better life. Many of these organizations are in the forms of orphanages, and homes for children with special needs. These places existed before, but now more than ever they are focusing on providing education and love to the children, as well as simply food and shelter.
May there someday be no more "cursed" children, and may someday every child in India have a shot at being loved and cared for!

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