Slumdog Millionaire's India: My Sobering Reality

By Joseph D'souza 01-23-2009

The movie Slumdog Millionaire and the Booker Prize-winning novel White Tiger have highlighted the non-shiny part of India. Far from exploiting poverty, these are stories about India that demand a global response -- especially for the sake of the children.

This is the India of 80% of the population -- the India of the slums, the outcasts, the exploited, and of abject poverty. The India where Dalit, tribal, and poor children are sold into the sex trade. Where fully healthy children are maimed into becoming beggars. Where children become victims of religious communalism. And where the elite classes keep them out of prosperity and development by not being willing to change a system that disenfranchises the children of the downtrodden.

I have worked with the disenfranchised and marginalised for most of my life. I'm a citizen of India who is proud of my country's progress in recent years, yet I must point out the obvious again. The movie is not about selling the poverty of India, as a British newspaper alleged ("Shocked by Slumdog's poverty porn"). Instead, it is the story about the real India of the majority, where children become the primary victims of all that is dysfunctional in society (as The Guardian pointed out).

As the movie is released in India this week, expect another barrage of attacks by a section of the elitist Indian media. Likely there will be heavy emphasis on the simple fact that this is a movie made by a white Brit! All this while forgetting that this movie -- which won Golden Globes and other awards and was nominated for several Oscars -- is far truer to Indian reality than the popular fantasized Bollywood movies.

But isn't this the time for truth-telling about what ails India and our world?

Are not the children of our day the primary victims of caste and racial discrimination, human trafficking, war, poverty, and religious extremism?

The world has about 1.2 billion children -- with India and China accounting for more than a fourth, 400 million children. The vast majority of India's roughly 250 million children are affected by dire poverty, caste discrimination, and exploitation.

Millions of children living in Africa, Latin America, and the Muslim world suffer the same plight. Many of these are in similarly desperate situations. Is it crystal clear to you like it is to me? The slumdog of our generation is the boy or girl less than 14 years old.

I have a sobering, reoccurring thought these days. Is the main sin of our generation what we are doing to children -- both born and unborn? What is our part in changing the conditions of the slumdog kids of the world?

portrait-joseph-dsouza1Joseph D'souza is the international president of the Dalit Freedom Network. He lives in Hyderabad, India, and works out of Hyderabad, London, and Denver.

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