I wrote a post recently opining that “Slumdog Millionaire” lacked a sense of the community in the Mumbai slum of Dharavi. One rugged individual prevails and gets the money and the girl– a feelgood plot. The use of real slum childrenâ€“scores of them in extra parts–and the casual violence against them made me worry that the movie had raised the bar. You might remember a TV movie from 1974 called Born Innocent. The script writers had come up with a novel form of violence and got 15-year-old Linda (Exorcist) Blair to star. Within weeks, some children acted out the assault scene for real on a smaller child. That’s one consequence of dramatized violence; it can lead to ”copycat” crimes.
In any form of art, what is perceived depends on the viewer and the context. “Slumdog” was a validation for many, enjoyed by many, won Oscars and may, I hope, empower the people of Dharavi. The director, Danny Boyle, was interviewed on NPR. He sounded very proud that he had paid all the children the standard rate in Britain, not India. He had arranged for education and a trust fund for the child stars. But it’s not enough.
The disparity, the power imbalance, the need and the rage are forces much bigger than a movie crew with good intentions. The system is designed to ensure that the rich will get the millions, and the slumdogs will stay in the slums. How else would it be possible to keep so many in such desperation for so long? The child actors will not be saved by a trip to Disneyland and a little cash. Their situation now would be difficult for an adult, never mind a small child. From destitution, to Hollywood, then back to the slums–
Azhar, 10, spent the weekend vomiting and has developed a temperature of 103 degrees since returning home last week after travelling to the Oscars with co-star Rubina Ali, 9.
He has been prescribed antibiotics by doctors, who said he is suffering from fever and exhaustion, but his condition has continued to worsen.
Azhar’s neighbours have also rallied round to build an 8ft by 5ft metal structure for him to sleep under out of the sun.
The families of the two child stars have said their children are not readjusting to life back in the slums after five days of glitz and glamour in Los Angeles.
“I cannot believe these kids have just been left like this after being taken to Hollywood. It is bound to affect them psychologically,” said social worker Sanjay Bhatia, who works in the slum.
There’s no question that the children need protection– someone who will stay and advocate for them until they are old enough to make their own way in life. They might need that well past the age of 18. Linda Blair, who had none of the culture shock and way more privilege than the Dharavi children, struggled with drugs and was lured into exploitation films before finding a stable adult life. The former child star is a sad Hollywood cliche. Was anyone thinking of that when they recruited these very young, very poor children?
Calling India — these kids need help on the ground, their parents are not up to the task. It’s a superhuman task. There’s no normal for them to go back to now, they need a trustworthy and skilled social work team to arrange for them and their families to have a safe place to live and a plan that works. They were chosen for the movie because they were sweet, and fearless and bright. With some good people to help them make the best of their fame they may be writing their own scrip in a few years, and that would be the one I’d want to watch.
Last week at the State House as I stood in the hall for 5 hours, opponents of legal same-sex marriage were giving testimony. More than one citizen said that the purpose of marriage is procreation, and every sexual act must be open to the possibility of pregnancy or it was not natural, or blessed by God.
It’s a little under that radar that there are politically active and organized individuals and groups who oppose all forms of birth control.
Being old enough to remember when a woman could expect to lose a tooth with every baby, I know that it is possible to have more children than is healthy. I saw firsthand that children could arrive at school neglected, to be picked on by classmates and even the nuns, all because their parents simply had too many to handle. Ever hear of Irish twins? – babies 9 months apart.
These are different times, we make different mistakes. Those who idealize a time when the heterosexual couple let God decide how many children they would have and everything was perfect are using selective memory. Today’s problems are right in front of us in all their messiness and sorrow. Yesterday was not a simpler time, only a past time.
Do we have to fight to defend the right to birth control? Yes. Many anti-abortion activists define all forms of birth control other than abstinence as a form of abortion. That includes the “morning after” pill that is offered to rape victims ( see Sarah Palin), or used after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It includes the IUD, and even ordinary birth control pills. Condoms are discouraged as not effective, even though they are.
Women who have good access to health care and information are not as vulnerable. But many women depend on programs like Medicaide, or have limited options. They are affected when their doctor discourages them from using birth control, when they are given misinformation by groups that have a political agenda, when they live in an area that lacks a choice of medical services. The poor, the rural, the young are most at risk.
There isn’t much validation for people who conscientiously use birth control. There’s no cute movie premise like in “Knocked Up”. The people who decide to “have as many as God sends us” do have a kind of impressive willingness, although I hope they are having them because they adore kids.
But why, since most Americans agree that preventing unwanted pregnancy is a good thing, is there not better access to birth control? I think it is partly that most people take birth control for granted, and there is still enough sense of shame that it’s difficult to see it as an act of love. But caring enough to protect yourself and your lover is a good and responsible thing to do. Birth control should be a normal part of health care for poor as well as rich. Making birth control available has social benefits for everyone.
NEW YORK (AP) Publicly funded family planning prevents nearly 2 million unintended pregnancies and more than 800,000 abortions in the United States each year, saving billions of dollars, according to new research intended to counter conservative objections to expanding the program.
Last month, under withering Republican criticism, House Democrats abandoned an attempt to include an expansion of family planning services for the poor in the economic stimulus bill. One anti-abortion activist, Troy Newman of Operation Rescue, called the short-lived proposal a “shameful population control program that targeted low-income families.”
However, Democrats in Congress are not abandoning their overall goal. They plan to push soon for a major funding increase for Title X, the main federal family planning program, as part of broader legislation endorsed by President Barack Obama to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.
In the State House believing citizens described the rules they want the state to enforce. I heard a confusion between what the church and the state should do. I heard many speeches about the “major religions”, and tradition, and more than one speaker cited the beliefs of the majority as if that justifies persecuting a minority. But these same people would stand by their principles even if they were one in a thousand — or at least they hope they would.
To them I would say — Keep your church pure. Refuse to bless the marriage of the divorced, the unbelievers, the homosexual. Practice your religion as you see fit, but don’t try to shape civil law to reflect your ideal concept of marriage. The same rule of law that promises equality might protect you some day too. And many bad actions wear the cloak of morality. Expecting gay people and single people to live celibate lives is something you might try in church, but it’s bad policy for the state.