Atanu Dey On India's Development

India’s Disposable Children

A couple of weeks ago, I had discussed A Matter of Rights in connection with the population problem and had concluded that post with

Does a person have a right to inflict pain and suffering on another person? If my action were to lead to immense suffering, and I plead that if you do not allow me to freely act you are impinging on some basic right I have, would you allow me that “right”? Or will you circumscribe my “right” to act as I please because otherwise it results in unnecessary pain and suffering to a human being?

Small girl with an infant

For the benefit of those who have not been following this thread, I had proposed a mechanism, a market for reproductive rights. Some people reacted violently to the proposal. How can you, you horrible person, ever think of such a horror in which a person’s basic inalienable right to reproduce is taken away? How dare you suggest that I give up my right to have as many children as I please, you communist, you you socialist? How can you suggest such a hateful thing as a market for reproductive rights? Are children things or commodities to be traded in a marketplace, you heartless creation of Satan?

I apologize to all you sensitive souls who are so protective of your rights to reproduce. I apologize to all you wonderful people who are so concerned about the rights of other people to produce as many children as their hearts desire. Now get your butts out there and help out this one and the baby she carries. And not just those two, when you are done with it, go help out the 20 million or so much like those two who have no rights. You who are so concerned about the rights of those who produced these disposable children, let me see how concerned are you all about the rights of the children who are produced as the consequence of the unlimited rights to reproduction that you grant everyone.

What about the rights of the children? What do you have for these? Are they human or are they disposable?

Small girl with an infant


In a perfect world, there would not be any resource constraints. In a perfect world, choices will not have to be made: you would be able to eat your cake and have it too. But in this world, where there are limits — not just physical limits but limits to how much compassion and care that humans can display — in this real world of real limits, there can be no unlimited rights. If you grant unlimited rights for people to produce children, then you could end up condemning millions of children to subhuman existence. And that is what I see every day scores of times. I cannot turn my eyes away from the inhuman neglect of humans. Are you people blind?

I wish I could post this one picture all over the country on billboards that carried the “INDIA SHINING” advertisements. I want people to not be able to turn away like they do when they see the little hands begging for a living.

A few years ago I was at a lecture at Berkeley where Joel Cohen was speaking about the population problem. About an hour into the lecture which was accompanied by a slide presentation, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to talk about the ravages of civil war in Sudan. Some of you may find the next slide disturbing. It is a fine Spring day outside. If you don’t wish to see the next slide, I suggest you look out the window.” Then for the next twenty minutes he spoke about war with that one slide up on the screen. You had to look at it, you could not not see it. The slide is imprinted in my brain. It showed in the foreground a small child with a disproportionately huge head compared to its skinny limbs sitting on its haunches in a bare field; in the background were half a dozen huge vultures patiently waiting for their meal. The child was not yet dead.


“What about me?”

“What do you mean, what about me?”

“Where are my rights? Where are my rights to a loving family? To food, to education? Why am I burdened with having to care for this 2 month old? Who is going to look after me?”

“Don’t ask me. I did not produce you.”

“Well, what do you do?”

“I am a human rights activist. I spend my time protecting the rights of people to reproduce and to see that no one encroaches on those rights.”

Small girl with an infant

“What about me?”

“Listen, the government is supposed to look after you. They are spending 100,0000,0000 crores of rupees in the support of the poor. Have you heard the minister proposing the budget? Lots of stuff for the poor. So don’t look to me for a handout. As far as I am concerned, you and that baby will be fine. I am busy protecting the reproductive rights of people.”

“What about me? Do you think I will be able to survive for too long begging on this local station in Mumbai? What happens to me when at night this baby starts to cry because it is hungry? What happens when I start to cry and feel like shrugging the baby on to the train track? Who is going to comfort me and who is going to sing me to sleep?”

Small girl with an infant

{I took the picture yesterday at the Lower Parel station at 4:45 PM.}

Goodbye, good night and may your god go with you.


  1. I totally agree

    The experience of reality is that people are surprisingly short sighted and selfish – because they are too busy protecting the rights of the birth givers and not of those who are born. Children require commitment of not only the parent, but also the society at large, if they have to be productive (not just reproductive) individuals and engage in nation building.

    The basic issue here is that neither the government, nor the parents (specially rural parents who comprise bulk of the population) are able to create/provide opportunities for their children, and in the end, the children suffer. Mumbai’s mega slums are a testimony to that, how many children are forced to beg because their parents desire it. I am totally compassionate towards children, which is why it would be wrong to subject them to a lifetime of misery simply by being born in a country where there is no dignity for any human life. The fault lies with the birth givers, not the innocent ones who are born. The “Hum Do Humare Do” campaign should be changed to “Hum Do, Humare None!”.

    A little sacrifice would go a long way.

  2. Atanu, with all due respect, you seem to have developed a martyr’s complex on this issue. Every one of us is aware of the issues faced. We all grew up in this environment, and those of us who left the country only found the contrast of Indian children’s plight more disturbing. Everyone here is deeply concerned and sympathetic, and if they are not, they have a lot of time on their hands to waste.

    So far I only have seen you focus on this issue on whether this is the right thing to do. The philosophy of it can be argued forever. It is like the abortion debate, there is no right answer. You seem to have completely ignored the enforcement process, what this process will look like, what other effects it will produce, and so on. To me, the scheme is too grand to begin with. You have to overcome all sorts of institutional, religious and cultural barriers. As I think through the enforcement process and its challenges, I am not able to get even a rough idea of the consequences and side effects. I conclude that it is easier to try for the same result (that is lower births) through positive reinforcement, economic growth, education, empowerment etc. The most telling statistic is the decline in growth rate in the more affluent and educated societies. That is the way to go.

  3. 20 million children, 10,000 Rs per child per annum is (perhaps) sufficient to provide for a level of opportunities (a school with a mid day meal, vaccinations, primary health care).

    Sum reqd = 20,000 Crore Rs = $5 Billion.

    Sell off the stupid PSUs, stream line the govt, improve tax collections (a 2% surcharge on direct taxes yields $1 Billion) and you have the amount.

    I find it a trifle silly when people passionately argue about unimplementable measures rather than going hammer and tongs at things that can really be done: say, provision of contraceptive devices even in rural areas.

  4. I totally agree, with the text and the Blog!
    Very nice!

  5. Why do human being have children?
    Can human beings make do with having 1 child instead of many?
    can human beings make do with having no child?
    Since some people are so poor in India that they cannot even guarantee “rights” to even one child why grant permission to have one child even?

    What is the difference between a child and a cattle?Are not they both tradeable commodities?
    Suppose I have a right to have a cattle but I do not have the fodder to feed it, so what do I do? I sell it to a person who would like to have a cattle and can feed it too. Similarly, I cannot guarantee a good quality of life to my would-be children so I sell my right to have them to a person who can guarantee them.
    What if one’s only child dies due to “poverity”?Of course we can always have an amendment and grant another permit for half a permit on reproduction of the death certificate.Then poor Gangu will run from pillar to post in our corruption free country for having a child of his own.
    Some idiots like Amartya Sen have wasted their time in the dirty climate of the Indian Subcontinent and lunatically “proven” that development, better healthcare, nutrition, education lead to fall in fertility rate.Shall we throw their studies into dustbin?
    Our good old Sanjay gandhi was also a great man(his samadhi, media coverage of his birth anniversary, and umpteen number of Government Institutions in his name testify that) who believed in “garibi hatao”. So what do we do: “garib hatao”.Sterlise all the bloody “garibs” and “not so garibs” and Population problem get solved in minutes. short and simple! no complexities!
    Result: To this day democratically elected Governments shudder at the thought of any nationwide program to check population growth.
    So if we have the Permit-Raj I will not have to face these “filthy beggars”.The world will suddenly be a better place to live in.

    With fewer people to compete for resources there won’t be any suicides by farmers, there won’t be any starvation deaths(there will be godowns full of grains of course, there won’t be any unemployment(IT is always there) and certainly there won’t be any scramble for oil, no Iraq!,no nuclear weapons!no religious terrorism!no vietnam!no world war!no global warming!
    The Earth wil indeed become a heaven!
    My friends! the problems which are staring us in the face are not so much because we are so many but because we lack human compassion(that’s why we can think of selling and buying babies, make mockery of our fellow human beings), because of the greed to get more and more. An idiot called Gandhi and some of his associates had also believed in such thoughts of less greed and more compassion but we were not listening then.Are we listening now?

  6. Just for the record: “arun” and “Arun Anantharaman” are two different people.

    As for this post, I have nothing to say. I don’t wish to indulge in rhetorical arguments.

    And I hope you fed the poor child.

  7. Just for the record: “arun” and “Arun Anantharaman” are two different people.

    As for this post, I have nothing to say. I don’t wish to indulge in rhetorical arguments.

    And I hope you fed the poor child.

  8. I must say that Antanu has a special way of describing the same thing which we have gone thro’ many times.I am moved by his depictions of ground realities in India.My state of mind goes back to the same helplessness as I use to feel in the middle of the night when my son was not well and was restless because of difficulty in breathing (alergic).Thank you for reminding us of the misereis of our fellow Indians,particularly children.

  9. burn to a poor parents is a curse. in this family child is taught to beg. whose fault is this. who is responsible for this. poverty only creates circle round the poor children. if these children are not taken care of properly ,that will intensify the poverty situation.

  10. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Relative morality: Abortion

  11. hi,
    It was really a very good discussion topic, and for me, more interestingly; I was just given a Project – To make a documentary Film on the issue – CHILD BEGGARY!!
    But I was told that, one of the main solution can be – Public should AVOID giving money to the Beggars, especially Children. That will reduce their birth rates. Interested people can donate for Social Organisations who help them.

    But I don’t think such Organisations are always totally Service oriented.
    I need some more alternatives..