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And The Three Years Old Smoked

As I peered from my three-storey building at the little child in torn clothes sitting by her mother’s side on the dimly illuminated footpath, I recalled a fascinating view that was once presented by Nelson Mandela. “Poverty is not an accident”, he said, “Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings”. And then, the Three years old smoked.

 By Yash Tiwari

230 Million Indians have been pushing into the obscurities of poverty during the past one year due to the pandemic of COVID19 outbreak, the second and deadlier wave of which we’re dealing with and fighting against at the present moment. Because, according to me, the corona virus outbreak did not just bring along a pandemic of a fatal virus, but also that of extreme impoverishment and social vulnerabilities to the poorest ones. But that is not what I thought of when I saw that child across the street. What I saw on that unexpected night of April was a middle aged, seemingly benighted woman in what appeared like a grubby Saree, sitting against a light-pole as its light produced her shadow over the road and the tiny cigarette in her fingers flickered a bit. What I saw was her taking a puff, and admiring her little one jumping and squealing around her childishly. But what I saw next was neither childish in the slightest nor admirable for the least – the little one walking to her mother as she offered her the joint. The poor girl, too, takes a puff or two from the cigarette still stuck between her mother’s fingers, exhaling a small cloud of smoke that I could visibly perceive in the orange hues of the street-light on the road.

What I saw, was a hardly-three years old beggarly girl take puffs off a cigarette, with precision and perfection, as if she’d been doing it for quite a while, offered by her own, equally-indigent guardian. What I saw, as shocking and saddening as it felt, was only one of many million hues of poverty and only one of many billions of poor ones out there.

Photo Courtesy/UNICEF/Niklas Halle’n

Lat year, for the first time since 1998, the World Bank says that the global poverty rates are forecast to rise. Half a billion people may be pushed into extreme destitution, largely because of the pandemic, the United Nations estimated.After the lockdownsparked India’s migrant crisis last year, their incomes have plummeted due to a massive unemployment surge in the informal sector, which is dominated by low-wage workers across the nation. Maids, construction and factory employees, rickshaw pullers, small shop owners, and daily wage laborers are among those who have been disproportionately affected. As a result of the lockdown, the majority of these migrant workers have no savings and no additional wages to keep surviving through the waves of this pandemic that keep getting deadlier. The young ones keep on growing in scenarios of uncultured habits and inappropriate practices, which they pass on to their future generations of destitute ones unable to improve, and the vicious wheel moves on and on and on, without any absolution or end. The situation is getting desperate in some parts of the country. About half of the population of Mumbai, for example, lives in weak settlements. As a result, they have limited or no access to basic facilities such as water, sanitation, electricity, and waste disposal. But most importantly, it distances the impoverished individuals further away from sensibilities, rectitude, practicality, morality, and basic standards of living (or, for the very least, surviving) healthily. Not only because they’re unaware of how to, but also because of the lack of means for the same.

On one hand, the condition of poverty is a deeply and strongly rooted one in our country that it cannot be eradicated with simply a single opiniated article. And on the other hand, the severity of this concern lies not in its deep roots, but in its expansive characteristic, proliferating fatally through every city and state especially because of the sudden halt on normality that the coronavirus outbreak brought upon the work. There are penniless families losing their sole bread-earners, families being pushed into pennilessness, and also penury individuals lacking the resources to survive after losing sources of earning the same pennies. Be it in the form of strikingly-grown numbers of unemployment, or the even higher numbers in the death toll every day, the COVID19 has projected an outrageous side of nation’s poverty that is as deadly as the virus itself, if not more.

In the midst of all the chaos – the cries for a spot in crematoriums and the screams for an ICU bed in hospitals – dances that little girl, hardly three or four years old, on a silent footpath. As she takes yet another puff from the cigarette in her mother’s two fingers and exhales the smoke out in the clear, the grey cloud entraps her within itself. There must be so many other – millions, perhaps – such silent footpaths, each with its own grey cloud entrapping uncountable souls. And the grey cloud remains. 

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