Thursday, October 07, 2010

Disturbing flashbacks

You spot a poor little girl probably in her early teenage, wearing shabby clothes and lying motionless on a busy road with lots of vehicles driving by. Living in a metropolis, you too are always doing something important, too busy to even convince yourself that you have actually seen something requiring your attention, let alone ooze out any emotions or spare your unquestionably precious time to stop by and see what you can do about her.

Let’s change the scene for a moment, shall we? You are measurably successful and have achieved almost everything you once dreamt of. Push the ‘how you achieved all those things’ story aside and think of what your next move should be. All of a sudden your conscience comes into play up and tells you to start some charitable work or at least ‘lend’ your support to some organizations helping the helpless. Believe me, sooner or later you begin to follow the same pattern as most of the high class figures do. You start delivering touchy speeches, posing photographs with the hungry, shaking hands with the poor or donating or raising funds (or doing both) for some noble causes. In the glimmer of your success and with a more polished societal figure, it’s so easy to forget a simple fact -- even when you were an ordinary person, you could have done something (though at a much smaller scale) that could have saved someone from the misery they would have to wait unbearably long to end.

I know I’m going nowhere with this argument at this late hour. Why did I even choose to write something which most of you will find too boring to continue reading beyond the first few lines? Well, it’s not for you that I’m doing this. It’s because I was damn right about one thing earlier today –that getting sleep wasn’t going to be easy tonight. So bear with my clumsy narration (that is, if you continue further).

It was about eleven o’ clock when I was riding my bike with my mother on our way to a hospital in Bhaktapur to get her medical report and to follow up with her surgeon that we happened to spot that girl. Let me correct myself. I was overtaking a few vehicles and hence speeding. Without anything particular in mind, I stopped my bike about 10 meters farther, then told my mother we were going back to see that girl. The place I’m referring to is part of Nagadesh or Sanothimi, in Bhaktapur District.

When we arrived at the scene, she was no longer on the road but pulled over to the footpath by someone in the neighborhood. We asked some kids who were staring at her what just had happened. We tried to get the girl’s attention by asking her if she was okay, but she didn’t respond. A ten rupee note slipped out of her grip that was still holding two or three other notes. Clearly, she had been sympathized by some commuters. The kids also told us that she was mute and probably not in stable mental condition.

I asked my mother to get some packaged juice and biscuits and try to feed her, while I quickly took directions to the hospital and went inside of what I found to be the Korea-Nepal Friendship Hospital in Thimi. My inquiry revealed that three days ago, the girl had been brought in by the police for treatment and left there for observation. Two days later, she was released by the hospital stating she was physically fine, but not mentally so. What happened to her later was nor in their records or none of their business.

Fair enough, I thought and went back to the scene. My mother told me that the girl couldn’t be fed, as she wasn’t responding at all. A bystander told me that two cops were on the scene a little while ago and pointed me to their direction. I approached them and asked them how she landed on the road after being ‘rescued’ by the police. The constables indifferently said they had no idea and that I’d better go to the local police station (about a kilometer farther) and speak to the DSP (a lady) herself. Seeing no progress talking to them, I asked my mother to accompany me on what was about to turn into a pointless mission afterwards.

The DSP wasn’t in, so we were taken to the inspectors-on-duty’s room. There were two of them inside, along with three or four other people. Without any proper introduction, I quickly greeted the officers and told them about the girl’s condition. I then demanded an explanation of how she was in such a terrible condition and not at some rehab. They proudly stressed on the fact that their senior lady officer was the one who had done everything in her capacity to help the poor girl. Details included giving the child a bath, some clothes and food. Then, she was said to have been taken by the police to several rehabs, only to find out that none of those would take custody of mentally unstable persons. Finally, the officers decided that there was nothing that they could do about it and let her go.

Just like that? I asked. They told me they respected my sentiments, but there was nothing anyone could have done anything about it. They were trying to convince me that they had done everything in their capacity, adding that after all, she was not their only headache. They had a lot of other things to worry about in order to ensure peace and security for the public, made only busier due to the long festival of Dashain in proximity. They counter-questioned us by saying, “These matters essentially are the state’s concerns. If the state isn’t doing what they should for such forsaken kids, who else can?”

I then made a few phone calls, trying to extract information about any organizations where the helpless child could be reestablished. Since getting my mother’s report was still pending, I decided to use the period of time we would have to wait for any replies to go to her hospital.

On our way back, I received a call and was advised of the government run mental hospital in Patan. I was also told that should that hospital refuse to take the kid in, there was no alternative. Then came an unexpected suggestion – I was only getting myself into needless troubles – troubling myself with my unpractical principles. Really?

Well, we went back to the officers and humbly requested them to prepare the necessary documents and to take her to the mental hospital as soon as possible. They assured (in a lack-of-willingness-revealing way ) us that they would do so and thanked us for our time and effort. As deep in my heart I knew that we hadn’t done anything effective to even address the seriousness of the matter in concern, I told him how I felt. “What we witnessed back there tells us that nobody deserves to suffer the way that girl's doing. Is the simple fact that it’s not us who are handicapped but that poor girl, enough to make us really try helping her? We’re not here to discuss whose reponsibility it is officially to relocate her. It's a real human life we're talking about. If we just walk away pretending not having seen anything disturbing, how can we manage to sleep at the end of the day when all those images start flashing back?”

When we reached the place where we had last seen the girl, she was no longer there. A local man told us that a police van had picked her up while we were away. “May she find a better refuge and treatment,” we wished, and continued toward home. I won’t be surprised if you say we did try our best today. Personally, I can never be sure of that. What’s bothering me is the question I’ve been asking all day long. Are the resounding words ‘humanity,’ ‘human rights,’ etc. so pointless and good only in books or public speeches?

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