About the Video: It plays like the story that has launched a million Bollywood silver jubilees. A train departs from the station leaving one of its passengers behind - an eight year old boy. The boy can remember his name, Suraj, but his tender age and the shock and bewilderment of being separated from his family renders his memory hazy. The only other thing he seems to remember is the name of his sister – Nili. He relies on the kindness of strangers. They feed the hungry child and take him to the nearest police station. The police refuses to file an FIR and instead sends the boy home with the family who found him.
The family welcomes a new member, a step-son. The lost child grows up working in the tea stall and the little corner music shop that the family owns. In sudden random moments of clarity his memories are lit up by the pieces of his childhood. He remembers a garden, he remembers that he was from a fisherman’s colony; he remembers the name of his mother- Mamta. His body gives away one clue – on his arm, an OM tattoo. He tells his story to friendly strangers at the tea-stall in the hope that they can put the bits of his memory together. As he gets older, he finds that he can never really fit in. There is friction between his adopted family and him. He runs away, skips Chhattisgarh for Madhya Pradesh and this time, he finds himself in a juvenile correction centre.
Life is hard but he is put through school and also earns money working at a tea stall. One of the patrons he runs across is Sarwat Naqvi, a veteran NGO worker from Chhattisgarh. It is Suraj’s Hindi, spun with peculiar Chhattisgarhi dialect, that piques Sarwat’s attention. Sarwat hears out his story but the details are too far, too few, unconnected. Years pass. Sarwat remains in touch with Suraj. Then one day, Suraj’s memory gives away another figment. A movie hall named ‘Sharda Talkies.’
Sarwat finds there are two moves halls named 'Sharda Talkies' - one is Bilaspur and one in Durg. But Bilaspur lacks a fisherman’s colony. Sarwat immediately heads to Durg. He meets the families that have lost their children. There are many like Suraj – lost children who are never heard from again. Families stuck in limbo awaiting a sign, some news, “is s/he alive or dead?”
Sarwat hears out their tales of loss and waiting. Then a family arrives and raises Sarwat’s hopes. The mother’s name is Mamta. Their neighbour’s daughter, with whom they were very close, was named ‘Nili’. They had lost two of three sons amidst chaos and confusion, on a fateful day at the railway station. One of them was named ‘Suraj’.
The only son who remained with the family was named ‘Sunny’. Etched indelibly into his arm was a familiar ‘OM’ tattoo.
After 15 years, against impossible odds, Suraj was reunited with his family.
Community Correspondent says: Sarwat Naqvi, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from Raigarh, Chhattisgarh gets emotional and ecstatic as he talks about the reunion. “I feel like I was an instrument of God’s will,” he says. “If I have ever done one good deed in my life, it is this. I feel proud of it but I am also humbled by it. Suraj is just one the thousands of children who go missing every year and are never heard from again. “
“What shocks me is the demeanour of the police department. They did not even bother to make a record let alone search for the child.”
When asked how Suraj is doing these days, Sarwat brings good news. “He has finally found himself. He is well-adjusted to his new life, he is working with his brother and he’s also planning on continuing his studies. I'm personally very happy with these developments. I feel responsible for him.”
The Issue: In 2005 National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) estimated that an average 44000 children are reported missing every year. Of these, as many as 11,000 remain untraced. Missing children are a most vulnerable group and susceptible to exploitation. They end up being trafficked or trapped in bonded labour and slavery.
The present system for tracking and identifying missing children leaves much to be desired. The National Human Rights Commission has made the following suggestions
Call to Action: Missing children should become a priority issue with state and union governments and law enforcement agencies.
Every police station should have a special squad and missing person's desk dedicated to tracing missing children. Special Juvenile Police Unit can also be used in this purpose.
Reiterate the High court decision to establish a missing children's cell in the CBI
District administrators are responsible for keeping tabs on the number of working children in his/her district. He/she is required to make regular inspections of these spaces
All missing children cases nationally should be reported to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)
Missing children's investigation should include the help of the Panchayat and community.
NGO's can also assist in reporting and investigating missing children
NCRB needs to set up a system/database so that all missing children cases are available to local authorities.
Government is required to give ample support to the emergency helpline CHILDLINE 1098
It is advisable that FIRs be filed in the case of missing children.
About the Community Correspondent: Armed with a degree in law, Sarwat Naqvi stepped out from behind the cloak of invisibility he and his Shia Mulsim minority community in Chhattisgarh suffered from to lobby and advocate for the protection and advancement of human rights in marginalized communities. His video, ‘Homosexuals Seek an Identity’, on gay and lesbians in his community compelled members to form a support group. As an IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent, Sarwat is well on his way to developing a platform to voice the unseen and unheard issues of his community. Watch Sarwat’s videos here.
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