Slumdog Millionaire & Railway Children - looking at fantasy through the lens of reality

After the runaway success of Slumdog Millionaire at the 2009 Academy Awards, the children’s rights issues presented by the film are more exposed than ever.  We asked the Railway Children, a charity dedicated to helping street children in India and elsewhere, how the real ‘slumdogs’ fare in Mumbai:

A rags-to-riches story, a fairy tale, an unattainable dream for the eyes of the child lying pensive on the platform – Slumdog Millionaire is a movie that’s surely been seen and appreciated by most people by now, considering the number of awards and nominations it has received. So what did Railway Children think about it?

Yes, unfortunately some children live in horrific conditions in this city. We at Railway Children work with similar children – children who have run away from home, been abandoned or gone missing and who spend their lives alone and at risk in and around transport terminals. We interact with the Jamals and Salims of this world on a daily basis. Their lives in one sense are similar to what we see in Slum Dog Millionaire. Like Jamal and Salim who run away in the face of danger during social riots, most children run away from home to escape the atrocities and abuse (physical, sexual and emotional), the neglect, the poverty, the social unrest.

From experience we have seen that especially in the aftermath of a disaster it is the children who are disregarded. Doused with the trauma of suddenly losing family and home they who are the most vulnerable are the most neglected making them easy targets for perpetrators of crime and exploitation. With nowhere to go, these children easily find themselves on the streets. The government bodies, the agencies and other institutions are not often coordinated to protect and create safe spaces for these children in the event of such calamities.

Street children are a resilient lot; they are street smart and survive all conditions. But unfortunately there are those, especially the girl children who get trapped and sucked into the deep, dark chasm of trafficking from where there is almost no return. Latika was honed to transform herself into the role of Cherry, a virgin, who would fetch a high price. This is sad but so true; and we are striving to prevent the Latikas in this country from becoming Cherrys.
Since generations stories have often been heard and told about atrocities committed on children to make them beggars. They surely do happen in parts of the country but since we do not have any evidence to confirm the same these remain stories as of now.

This city which is a home to thousands of street children with dreams, aspirations and hopes of a brighter, safer and happier tomorrow unfortunately at most times offers only illusions. The fairy tale ending of Slumdog Millionaire is very far from reality for these children. Most of the Jamals of this city do not have a happy ending – they live and they die on the same streets taking with them their dreams and aspirations. As Rahul, a street boy who cannot imagine a happy ending for himself, said in an interview with The Telegraph, UK “We earn, we eat. That’s it.” This is the story of the real Jamal.

Note:  on average 50 new children every day arrive on the huge station at Mumbai CST (the former Victoria Terminus), which was featured in the film.  Railway Children support a local NGO on the station and co-ordinate the efforts of other NGOs working with the Railway Protection Force (RPF) at this location, to intervene as early as possible with these children and seek their protection, welfare and longer term development by restoring them to their families, enrolling them into education or vocational training.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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