Little Girl Alone on a Corner, Summer 2001

 The year was 2001.  This was our second summer in Kolkata.  I’ve carried the picture of this little girl for years, and then put it up on our photo board at Shishur Sevay.  This little girl is part of our history. 

One day we were driving in town and stopped at a rather long traffic light.  The little girl was standing there alone.  I looked in all directions but there was no adult, or child anywhere in sight.  The little girl stood there, expectantly, as if someone would come for her.  I wanted to get out of the car and get her to a safe place, or just stay with her in case someone did come.  But our driver, and others insisted that if I were to get out, people would think I was trying to kidnap her and they would beat me up.  I knew they were right.  Eventually the light changed.  I’d taken her picture.  I’ve never forgotten her.  She is part of the story of why I am here, why we have Shishur Sevay.

That night I called someone who ran an adoption home.  I told her about the child, asked if there is a way to trace children, wondered what would happen to her.  My friend told me there was no system.  Sometimes police bring children to that home directly; sometimes they go other places.  There was no system, no way to know.  I kept wondering why there weren’t computers keeping track, records, posters, emergency sirens.  The situation is not so bad now.  If a child is taken by police to the correct agency, the child can be found if anyone is looking.  But sometimes police don’t take the children to the correct place.  Sometimes children are just disappeared.  And even if they are taken to the “right place” they may still spend their lives behind the bars of a government institution.  Ironically, in 1997, when I was Director of the Johnson & Johnson Institute for Children, I was able to get funds to help establish Childline in Mumbai. 

I’m working on the website for Childlife Preserve Shishur Sevay.  It will be accessible for visually and hearing impaired, and additionally will be supported by Widgit (c)  symbol language.  But it’s writing the content that slows me down and that slows everyone down in the process.  Today I was writing about the origins of our girls.  I was thinking about illustrations.  One of our girls was lost in a similar way.  She says matter-of-factly,   “My mother left me on the corner of the street and told me to wait until she came back.  But she never came back.”  And eventually the child wandered and eventually she ended up with the police, who took her to the government home.  She was there about a year and then came to us.  For a very long time she could not remember the names of anyone in her family, but then she started to remember, started to draw picture after picture of herself crying.

For a few years after I’d photographed that girl left on the corner, I’d talk about her.  A couple of times people offered to look for her, or rather promised they could take the pictures and find her.  I gave out her picture.  I don’t know where she is, but her lostness touched me, so she too is part of this home. 

Our girls all have terrible stories of violence, abuse, suicide and murder of parents…. and of course our two girls with CP each have closed earring holes, so they must have had families at one time.  Well, actually, all our children had families at one time.

I hope this little girl from the corner, who now must be 12-13 years or so, has found a safe place.  Sometimes I try to convince myself that five minutes later someone came for her.  But I know that’s not true.  In Kolkata, if you care about a child you don’t leave her unguarded for a minute.  It’s not safe.   You don’t leave money on the street and expect it to be there when you come back.  You know it won’t be there.  But people leave children all sorts of places, on corners, on trains, next to ponds…. those are the stories told to me by our girls at Shishur Sevay.

This little girl’s picture will be on the website too.  She is part of our history, her story is the story of all our girls, and the story of our lost children.

UPDATE ON 11 OCTOBER 2011

This morning I asked Gibi (Jasvinder Kaur, who founded Shishur Sevay with me) if she remembered this girl.  She said she has her picture up, looks at it from time to time, and wonders what happened to her.  She remembered that I’d sent my driver back to the area, asking about the child.  Yes, this little girl is part of the history of Shishur Sevay.

 

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