Lesser Gifts of the Western Gods

The other side to child labor. Does it provide for a hope?
This postcolonial report won the “One World Broadcasting Trust / Unicef 1998 Advancement of Children’s Rights award”. And now available for direct viewing online. Click here to watch.

Also important to remember that Titu makes a living, nurtures a dream and does not give up. The reality is indeed more interesting than any fiction. And more painful.

Recent Oscar fancies include child prostitution in south Asia. Indeed, the movie Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids got India the Oscar she needed as much as late Mother Teresa got the Nobel Prize that India deserved! Apparently the story of Sonagachi was not meant to be shown to Indians, because the film makers think it would violate the identity issues of children (as though Calcuttans don’t have cyber cafes on the streets).

Makes one wonder about the socio-economic parameters and where the line is drawn between ‘subject to exploitation’ and ‘right to make a living’. More importantly, one needs ponder the grueling reasons behind any further justification. And the other pressing question is regarding the exoticism of third world poverty.

At the one hand, child labor (commercial sex or injurious workplace) is a reality. Not everyone has the privilege to escape this reality. Nor the audacity. Nor the worldview. Nor the comfort or time to devise a luxurious worldview.

On the other hand, it’s a perpetuation of an oppression cycle. Its not simply another work. It never is. It’s a systematic byproduct of an evil world system we abide by, that has such intrinsic elements well woven. One can argue the case for the Netherlands and the red lights there may not blind the eyes with as much discomfort as streets of Kolkata. Or the thousands of software sweatshops sponsored by the first world for the ‘call centers’ to take orders 24/7, which are indeed glorified tech-slavery of our age!

The well meaning audience may put the blame squarely upon the individuals who are voluntary participants in the process of unjust labor. But the point many miss is that Bangladesh, as in this movie, is a residue of a bigger world whose rules are largely written by systems of such oppression that we have all contributed in nurturing, especially people in the first world. Geographical disadvantages, political readiness, economic standing and class divides are just few of them. Titu is just one protagonist, who like millions of other child laborers and commercial sex workers, deserves all the praises of the world to be able to persist to live despite the inflicted hardships.

And yes, Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski need not fear about identities of children born to third world prostitutes. The children do not feel ashamed of their parents. If they were, they would not pose for the camera. It’s the detached film-makers who need feel ashamed for telling the story that’s been narrated almost all the time (that children get exploited in Dhaka or Kolkata), but for not telling the story of how it came to such a pass (that Dhaka nearly got driven to a stage of no-return thanks to American interventions using Saudis to uproot Mujibur Rehman because of his stress on secularism and pro-Soviet stances; or the implantation of Missionaries of Charity, which in the name of so-called God’s grace, aggravates poverty by declaring not a war, but preaching that “poverty is gift of God” so that generations of slum children grow up to earn it dividends and also become starry-eyed participants in such stereotypical movies).

In any case, I think there is some hope. It’s surely a triumph of the laborers. And a disaster for the capital evangelists who presume that liberalized economy, after all, is where the buck stops. And the mind.


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