I walked into the village, excited about getting to see something new, enthusiastic about meeting new people from different walks of life, all set to explore how majority of our country’s population lives. What I was faced with was a wandering naked three year old boy who had broken his head. He was dark and skinny with a defeated expression on his face. His forehead was smeared with white talcum powder and there were white splotches all over his body. He was badly in need of a bath. Sympathy and pity were the first emotions I felt.
The kids there ran and gathered around me at the sight of the camera in my hand. They were excited and giggling and smiling. I started taking photographs of them and meanwhile was observing the boy. After a couple of moments, he silently came forward and joined the group and posed for one of the photos. His expression never faltered and he remained mute. He could not bring himself to smile. It made me wonder about the extent of trauma this three year old has been through.
I walked ahead to a group of women who happened to be talking about the same boy. They welcomed me into the discussion and I got to know that he had fell and hit his head on a stone. His father is disabled and bedridden and his mother is an alcoholic. His parents were not bothered about him and there was no one to take care of him. Sympathy and pity was followed by rage.
I asked them why none of them took him to the doctor. No other villagers were ready to help because they were scared of being accused of interfering in another family’s affairs. I had read about the helping nature and hospitality of the rural community but what I saw was the social pressures that refrained them from helping. How much ever you learn to empathize with others in a classroom or in your social circle, to actually do it is near to impossible when you are faced with the reality.
To empathize is to feel what they feel. I realized that until or unless am put in their living conditions I’ll not be able to empathize with them because their living conditions are what I have never imagined myself in.
Or I never had to. How can I put myself in that three year old boy’s shoes when he never even owned a pair of those in his life.
About the author: Sanjana Jayakrishnan is from Pallakad, Kerala, our 2015 cohort fellow. She worked in western and central India with Chaitanya WISE, an organization working towards gender equity. She continued working with them for another five years before studying and working on systems, processes and policy change.