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Released on 3rd October 2011

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Academic Reviews by Dr.Vasanthi Raman

This is possibly the only book that traces the narratives and discourses on Indian childhood from partition and beyond. In recent times, particularly since the near universal ratification of the UNCRC, there has been a fair amount of policy attention on the child and also growing academic interest in childhood studies in India. But this has not been preceded by any discussion of past policy or any serious analysis of institutional initiatives taken in the past. The book under review fills an important lacuna in this regard.

The author begins by referring to the unwanted child who was the victim of Partition violence which almost destroyed the very notion of the family; she also points out that there was a conscious decision to forget the horrors of partition and move on with the task of nation building and yet the past could not be forgotten since there were live and living memories of it in the form of abducted women and children, ' unwanted children' . Thus in the public conversation that ensued in post - independence years, the life worlds of these ' unwanted children' find no reference or echo in the stories of childhood of that period.

In the Introduction, Balakrishnan refers to the notion of ' overlapping consensus' regarding the child amongst a wide range of social actors, which included non-profit organisations, practitioners, activists, individual scholars, journalists and the state. However this diverse group often held divergent positions, but these differences were often glossed over in the public domain. She refers to one of the early and influential writings of Myron Weiner - The Child and the State in India. Weiner's argument was that there was a consensus between the elite belief system and the state bureaucracy regarding the nature of the relationship between child and State.

The Indian state developed a special relationship with children, as new subjects and also as anchors in the nation-building project, with the child visualised in two distinct subject positions: one wherein the child was situated in and acknowledged by the family with a specific religious and national identity, the other being that of the unwanted child 'who was dependent on the new state for the permanences of home, family, religion and nationality....'. ( p.8) The child within the home was the staple of the development discourses of modernity. But the unwanted child was a difficult proposition and posed challenges; there were many different positions' the western view of the child as dependent, Gandhi's view and that of many others, that the child is an individual in her/his own right, the Nehruvian view of the child as an adult in the making and finally the view of the child as a mini-adult, which could be subsumed in other positions.

The author speaks of the three distinct perspectives from which the Indian state viewed the child - (a) the child as dependent and object of state welfare (b) the child as an adult in-the-making, in the Nehruvian vision which justified state investment in children, and (c) the child as a mini adult whose relationship to the State was no different from that of any adult. The author argues that a singular view of the child as tomorrow's citizen came to dominate the discourse. The author however emphasises that the violence and the trauma that pervaded the partition experience '"have influenced the course of modern development as well as the relationship between the political and cultural identities of all the actors who influence the experience of childhood" . ( p14)

The first three chapters of the book are particularly interesting where the author traces the development of the perspective on the child and also policy debates in the context of partition. The dilemmas that the newly independent state had to face in the wake of the mass displacement of people on both sides of the border was the context in which many debates and discussions took place and more importantly, the practical question of how to deal with the children of partition violence. She traces the different viewpoints among the new policy makers and the social workers involved in humanitarian relief work on both the western and the eastern sides of the border. Some of the debates of that time resonate in the present, particularly in the eastern side of our border, what with questions of the distinctions made between refugees and immigrants in official policy with burning questions of religion and nationality undergirding these issues. The repercussions of these are still with us today.

The chapter entitled- ' Hyphenated Child-State Relationship' highlights the deep ambivalences in policy perspectives in regard to the ' unwanted children' of partition.That the child' s relationship was mediated through the family was accepted as a given but this posed a problem for those who were left with no family. The state and government had to further refine and categorise the notion of unwanted children keeping in mind the different contexts; one which flowed out of the experience of abduction, another was that of the orphan child and the third was one wherein the child was wanted due to various kinds of property considerations but whose care was effectively ignored. But the first one flowing out of abduction was a difficult one for the Indian state and policymakers since it involved questions of family, religious community and national identity and the fluidity of these boundaries. However, the decision of the state to take responsibility for those children left parentless was an important one arising out of the human impact of Partition. Thus the idea of the state as guardian emerged, taking upon itself multiple roles and responsibilities in the lives of children. The socio-historical context within which the state developed a special relationship with children and families was the one which laid the ground for the state planning on children. Pandit Nehru may be credited with the principle that the state had to fulfil a familial responsibility in favour of the nation's children. However, there was never any question of replacing in any way the central role of the family in the lives of children.

The chapter - ' The Making of Tomorrow' s Adult' - covers the various shifts in policy perspectives. Pandit Nehru' s view of children as tomorrow' s adults, hence needing the special attention of the state had an extremely influential role in the 1950s and 1960s. The relationship between the state and social workers and private philanthropic organisations was also discussed, with Pandit Nehru clearly enunciating that small-scale and scattered efforts could not solve the big problems, but that government and people have to collaborate in this endeavour. The critical issue that surfaces is the question of the role of the family vis a vis the State. The author discusses the different approaches, including the Gandhian as well as the western approaches with their distinct perspectives on the role of the family and the state in the life of the child. The shift to an approach which emphasises the child as a human resource emerges during the Second Plan period and by the Third Plan the need to invest in children as tomorrow's citizens and not as mere dependents comes to the fore. But through all these shifts in policy, there was no doubt about the centrality of the role of family in the life of the child, the state' s role being accepted as essentially supplementary.

While the initial years after independence saw a more cooperative and flexible approach towards the voluntary social work sector, this changed over a period as the newly formed state got consolidated and the lines between constructive social workers and the state were more clearly drawn and the differences in approach more visible. The National Policy for Children in 1974 was an important milestone in policy. Essentially motivated by the Nehruvian vision of children as tomorrow' s citizens and therefore national assets, there was a unanimity of opinion that the state needs to invest much more in children and their needs.

There is a certain degree of ambivalence on the part of the author about the perspective that came to prevail with regard to the role of the state vis-a-vis the family. For example, she states: ' unintentionally perhaps he [Nehru] left no space for alternative explorations of what childhood could be , and what could have also been other relationships with the State" (p.90). However she does not pursue this further. Gandhi' s view that the child's world should not be isolated from that of the adults is contrasted with the views of Pandit Nehru.

The chapter titled " Emergence of Child Rights Advocate" is about contemporary discourse and policies since the 1980s. The author discusses the depoliticisation of the development process as also the overall focus on technical approaches as opposed to more holistic approaches which saw the child as part of wider processes and structures, specifically the family and its social location. Different professional groups began to focus on specific aspects of the child's life and child rights as a whole but the concern for wider social issues was absent. The UN CRC which became the framework for most child rights groups in India, was itself part of the overall neo liberal policy prevalent in the West and deeply Eurocentric in approach, an approach assumed to be a universal given. In India, as the author perceptively points out, much of the discourse on child rights comes to the forefront at a time when there is a paradigmatic shift in development perspectives with the application of Structural Adjustment Polices since 1991, an important part of which was premised on the withdrawal of the state from its social responsibilities.

Balakrishnan's concluding chapter refers to the strange paradox that while there is near-unanimity in vision and approach in the dialogue on child rights, which seems to facilitate policy initiatives and programmes with little conceptual challenges, there is also unanimity in the realisation that the experiential reality of childhood shows that children are not doing well. ( p.214).Perhaps this so -called unanimity can also be traced to the hegemonic Eurocentric discourses which fit very well with the neo-liberal policy thrusts which are being adopted in India, certainly by many child rights groups and even sectors within the government. The question of funding looms large in any discussion on current policy. That the vast majority of Indian children are not doing well is not surprising, since policy on children cannot be divorced from the overall policy framework and programmes. If indeed the agenda is one of large-scale appropriation of resources and livelihoods, then surely children cannot be insulated from such tectonic policy shifts.

There have been contestations on the emerging discourses and policies even among child rights groups, specifically regarding the role of the state and its responsibilities towards children, the critical question of the role of the family and its relationship to the State, questions of the holistic development of children and thereby also the crucial significance of wider entitlements to the families of the children. The case of the Integrated Child Development Services ( ICDS) is a good example of a state sponsored initiative where in fact the ICDS was envisaged as a holistic programme which was meant to cater to the needs of pregnant and lactating mothers alongside the needs of the young child. Recent attempts to restructure the programme envisage Anganwadi Centre (AWC) - cum- Creches to cater to the needs of the increasing numbers of women who have to work outside the home to contribute to depleting family incomes.

The well-documented research on the history of policy regarding children in India is interspersed with certain ambivalences regarding the triangular relationship of the child, family and the state. The author refers to the plurality of childhoods but does not spell out what implications these have for policy. The question of the child as a separate stake holder ( which is part of a much later discourse ) is sometimes transposed onto the Partition period and the dilemnas thrown up. Her discomfort with modernity is also evident but again this theme is not pursued and its implications for children and child policy are not spelt out. Despite these silences, the book is important and needs to be read for an understanding of the social and political context of policy making regarding the child.

Vasanthi Raman New Delhi