The Mobiustrip

The Mobiustrip

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Price of a Child

During my first week in the slum, I met Hema, Rekha's neighbour.
She was 'living in' with a man who had helped her to get away from the claws of a bad marriage. I thought it was very progressive that they were living together without getting married. To this day, I am not quite sure why they haven't tied the knot. The man earns well. He excavates sand from the sea on a contractual basis. It is called "reti ka kaam", where relatively rich people employ these slum dwellers for about 15-20 days a month and set them to work in the middle of the night in the sea. This sand is then sold by the owners for various purposes. And the daily wage labourers get paid about Rs 700 per trip, which is good money. Since it is a physically exhausting task, the men take the remaining 10 days of the month off. That's when they relax. And end up gambling.

Gambling seems to be cited as a "source of income" whenever you ask people what they do for a living. They will mention their day job, an odd job or two  they do on the side, and then say "jua khelte hain". Hema's partner seems to have fallen prey to it too. When he doesn't get enough work, and loses money in the gamble, he starts  to dip into her savings. And this is again a common practice, corroborated by quite a few families, including my maid at home. The women work, the men squander.

All said and done though, he is said to be a good man.Not a wife beater like the majority. He has been getting verbally abusive though - the more money he loses, the more he yells at Hema. But she is still with him. For now.

In the village she has a husband she has broken up with. This was after she took loans and built a pakka house for the family. He went gallivanting after another woman and wanted Hema  out of the house. She wanted to keep both her kids with her mother while she came to Bombay to look for work. They were just entering their teens - a boy and a girl. The husband said she could have the girl but he wanted the boy. Hema didn't want to separate the kids, but  had no choice. The boy had asked for a gift at the local village fair. It would cost her Rs 1000. She didn't have that kind of money  at that time, after having spent all of it on building the house. The husband did. So the boy went to the husband.

All for a thousand rupees.

Rekha gave birth to a little girl sometime during the second week of my  stay in the slum.  She was visiting her brother during the Ganpati festival. While over there, her water broke. She boarded a train by herself (the brother for whom she had taken gifts despite the fact that she had no source of income that month did not deem it important enough to bring her home) and came back home in that condition. Then she was in labour for a whole day, and gave birth right in the house. She had planned for 14-year old Poonam to help her with the delivery - a plan that I had tried to dissuade her against. As expected, Poonam panicked during the delivery.So Hema rushed to Rekha's aid. She cut the umbilical cord with a razor and then it slipped back in. Rekha had mentioned that if  the placenta is not fully removed then it endangers the life of the mother. Hema had to put  pressure on her stomach to remove it. The doctor's report read that she had lost a lot of blood and was severely anemic. When she went to get the birth certificate of the baby girl, she mentioned that she had only two children and that this was the third child. I had not known of this, but apparently the government makes you pay Rs 500 for a  birth certificate if you have more  than three children. Rekha had to borrow Rs 40 from me to pay for her rickshaw ride to the doctor after the delivery, so obviously Rs 500 was a huge sum to pay.

It was a miracle that I wasn't in the house on that day. I am not sure how I would have handled a birth in the house - umbilical cord, placenta, blood and all. What I did hear from her neighbours was a lot of murmuring about whose child it was since her husband didn't live with her. And then some specualtion about whether she would keep the child. I wasn't quite sure why this topic was being discussed, till a lady she called "mausi" told me in confidence that Rekha had given birth to a baby boy two years back  and had sold him in the village for Rs 5000.

I could not bring myself to ask Rekha why she had done that, since I wasn't supposed to know about this in the first place. But it did make me wonder what her motivation might have been to sell off a male child when she had two daughters and one son at that time. It also helped me understand the ''mummy bol rahi hai ki bacche ko bech degi" jokes the kids had been cracking before and  after the delivery.
What I couldn't quite reconcile was Rekha's past action with her present indignation at being told by Mausi that there was someone in the village who was  ready to buy this daughter of hers as well.In her own words, she said "I will die, but I will not  give this girl to someone else."

I wasn't sure if it was guilt, or a charade.

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