Wed 30 Nov 2011 - Wed 29 Feb 2012
India’s trash goes on the street. Garbage, collected from homes, is tossed on the nearest street. Animals (cows, buffalo, goats, dogs and monkeys) who wander the streets defecate and urinate as needed. Men spit paan on the street, and perform “farmer’s blows” to alleviate nasal congestion. Pant-less babies are free to relieve themselves as needed. After consuming chai or a snack, the garbage is tossed to the road without a second thought. Bus, car and train windows are used to purge trash from the vehicles. Makeshift urinals are created whenever there is a running sewer or just a darkish corner. The smells of urine, feces, rotting food (which is only avoided by street animals after it is particularly rancid), mud and dust fill the air around the worst of India’s streets. So it follows that the street dwellers are the lowest of the low in India.
Street children and stray dogs are two of the street’s inhabitants. Left to wander, they are surprisingly territorial and stick to a particular thoroughfare or intersection. Left to fend for themselves, the instinct to survive is dependent on one thing; the need for food.
While sitting on a bus, waiting as passengers filed on, I watched one particular boy and a particular dog. What surprised me the most were the similarities between the two. They stood out of the way of traffic, virtually invisible to the passersby. They followed dropped items to see if any of it was edible. They lingered near food vendors. They nudged people with items in their hands. Their eyes darted to take in the bustling scene, focused on filling their needs. They cowered when men came too close, or raised a hand or leg to them. They were dirty, likely covered with a skin infection, and most of all, they were alone.
My usual stance on avoiding giving to children who are begging, selling or performing was challenged in India. My original reasoning was that I shouldn’t help the children to be successful in these activities, as they will avoid going to school in order to continue their practice. But in India, free public education is not available, and school is often not an option. So what happens to all the street children? Are they viewed as being on par with dogs? How does a child, who is stimulated only by their daily struggle for food, develop into a well-rounded adult? Does a street child have any future other than drugs, disease, or crime?
Stray dogs are particularly rampant in India. They, unlike children, breed at astonishing rates, and the next generation of street dogs can be seen huddling in cracks of pavement. We have seen litters of puppies in every town in India, often at a rate of one litter per street. The puppies are precious in their precocious innocence, but are often already leery of human contact. They, like their parents, develop skin conditions, have ticks and fleas, injure limbs, and will eventually have the glazed-over look of a dog raised on the street. Garbage is their only source of food, and sewage is often the only source of water.
India’s gems have revealed themselves to us in the form of historical relics, religious pilgrimage sites and genuine people. However, the biggest issues India faces, which are, in my opinion, the lack of sanitation and the treatment of its neediest inhabitants, are also all around us, just like the trash on the street.