"We will be remembered only if we give to our younger generation a prosperous and safe India, resulting out of economic prosperity coupled with civilisational heritage." -- Dr APJ Abdul Kalam
A few days ago India ushered in its 69th independence day. And while the country has over the past nearly seven decades succeeded in different spheres, in many it is still like a toddler trying to get up and stand on its feet. Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam's resolute faith in children and their ability to transform India was witnessed in his interactions with youngsters. Some may complain that it took us more than six decades as a country to say that education is a right (when the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act was passed). But the optimist, perhaps in the vein of Dr Kalam would accept this and quip, "Yes, it took us too much time to realise this, but at least we got here!"
"The country doesn't deserve anything less than success from us. Let us aim for success." -- Dr APJ Abdul Kalam
Yet, being optimistic doesn't mean that we stop seriously addressing our issues. We need to ask if we have managed to ensure that each child of this country is "free", in all senses of the word. Have we managed to ensure that every child is strong enough to live past his/her first birthday? Why has it taken us so much time to ensure the effective implementation of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme?
In 2013, India moved to the 55th position from 63rd in the Global Hunger Index but we continue to lag behind countries like Iraq and Ghana. We continue to have among the highest prevalence of underweight children (more than 40%) under age five. As a country we managed to take a stand and effectively got rid of polio, and it is time for us to work towards being a country where not even a single child is malnourished.
Today, an amendment bill, the Child Labour Regulation and Prohibition Bill, rests in Parliament. We need assess exactly how this will impact children. Will it help them or harm them? Can children be truly free when in a way there would be tacit approval to them working after school hours under certain conditions? Yet another change in a law (the Juvenile Justice Bill) could potentially push children who have committed certain serious crimes into adult legal systems, without a second thought on reformation. We need to introspect on what we really want: do we need to focus on punitive action for children even without giving them the chance to reform themselves?
Sometimes it seems as if India is not the right place for a child to grow up. There is no better time than now to reflect and act on whether we are truly doing whatever it takes to ensure a safe, happy and healthy childhood for all the children of our country.
"Dream, dream, dream. Dreams transform into thoughts. And thoughts result in action." --Dr APJ Abdul Kalam
Can each one of us, in the words of Dr Kalam, dream of a better India? Can each one of us acknowledge that there remains much to be done to truly free our children from the shackles that are created mostly by an unjust and inequitable society? So what is required to make our children truly free? Resolute political will geared towards investing more in quality education, making health a right so that it is taken seriously, and ensuring food security are just a few things that can work in favour of our children. Somewhere we have forgotten that true independence needs to start with the most vulnerable -- our children.
Photo Credit: Rishu Raj, CRY Volunteer