What’s the cost of a child’s life in India? Should poor people be allowed to sell their children? The answer has always been a resounding no. The law does not permit this. Religion and social norms also go against such a practice as this puts a child’s life in jeopardy making him/her a slave of trafficking industry. But there are always two sides of the coin and we should not favour one for another.
In 2012, 42 out of every 1,000 infants died in India and malnutrition was a major reason for this. The government support in the form of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) has failed miserably. An audit done by CAG found that Rs 57.82 crore was diverted to activities not permitted under the scheme in five test-checked States. Medicine kits were not available in 33 to 49 per cent of the anganwadis and functional weighing machines for babies were not available in 26 per cent of the centres. So, is it ok to sell the child when you know he/she will die in want of food?
Saurabh Kumar examines this scenario excellently in his film ’Handover’, which has a Bihar village as its setting. A poor mother and a government official are the protagonists. The film is based on a true story told by Harsh Mander through an article, 'Selling One's Child', published in The Hindu. The film opens with a newly-married government official Ratan Das (played superbly by Vikas Kumar of Khhotey Sikkey fame) visiting a remote village to investigate the matter of child trafficking.
Is it ok to sell the child when you know he/she will die in want of food? Saurabh Kumar examines this scenario excellently in his film ’Handover’, which has a Bihar village as its setting. A poor mother and a government official are the protagonists.
Radha (Nutan Sinha) and her husband worked as manual labourers in a city. They lose one of their sons after he contracts a serious infection and they could not afford the costly treatment. Soon, the man of the house also contracts TB and they are forced to return to their village hoping to survive with whatever little work Radha manages to get. But work is always irregular in the village. Thankfully, a distant cousin helped Radha with money but that was not enough, especially with the mounting expenditure on medicines. The poverty is extreme and it’s difficult to feed the children, a little boy and infant girl.
The cousin, who is childless, offers to adopt the girl and write off all the loans and give more money for survival. An affidavit is signed to that effect. But it’s not money that Radha gives the girl for. The logic is simple: The girl will die if she remains with the parents. The cousin and his wife loved the child. But still, it’s tough for the woman to let go of the child. She walks miles at nights to get a glimpse of the daughter.
It’s not easy to conceal such matters in a village. Soon, a local reporter visits the family and elicits all the information. The news turns into a sensation. It’s ‘Peepli Live’ from there on. TV crews, women rights’ organisations, politicians, all make a beeline to the village and admonished Radha for being a heartless mother. The government official submits the inquiry report. Police arrests the cousin and restores the child to the mother. A happy ending. Till another news arrives. The child dies due to malnutrition. Radha's worst fear becomes a reality.
What makes this movie stand out is the message that it conveys without much emphasis. It’s not about child malnutrition and trafficking. Director Saurabh Kumar hits at our deficient knowledge. He underscores the belief educated people’ hold that every issue is a practical problem which needs to be sorted out through a confined set of solutions and poor, being unlettered, don’t know what’s best for them. Such imposition of readymade solutions by the outsiders is universal from education sector to infrastructure development, from farming to health and sanitation.
‘Handover’ is not only well meaning but also well made. That too on a string budget. The actors, all NSD pass outs, slip into their roles effortlessly and the characters also speak different accents of Bhojpuri to bring out the difference of rural and urban backgrounds. Nutan Sinha needs a special mention for her brilliant portrayal of a rural woman. Whether it was making dung cakes, handling the child or a complete indifference to the outsiders, she shines in all parts.
A parallel track of the official’s family life not only lends light moments to otherwise a dark reality, but also brings out the contrast between the privileged and poor very well. Just before the news about child’s death is shown, the official is shown to have come back from a felicitation ceremony and playing with his daughter. The camera work is flawless. No wonder then that it was selected for the International Film Festival held at Ahmedabad in 2011.
The screening of 'Handover' was organised by the Chandigarh Creative Cinema Circle