Whilst our usual evenings entertainment normally evolves around The Crown, for Friday night watching we like to up our game. Friday night is special to us all and so if we aren’t going out (which despite being married eleven years, having young children and living in a somewhat remote spot we do still attempt to do from time to time!) we like to pick out a film. We normally procrastinate about the decision so long that it actually takes longer to decide upon a film than watch one! But last night was different. We have both been wanting to watch Lion for some time now (and thanks to Amazon Prime this was possible!) so our movie night started in record time.
From the moment Saroo awakes on the train platform, alone and scared, I knew I was going to struggle to watch this film. Since having children something inexplicable has shifted within me and a defenceless, frightened child is enough to make my eyes burn with tears, let alone one who gets trapped on a train for two days and then lost in one of the largest, most overpopulated cities in the world.
The thick wall of people that we watch course through Sealdah (Kolkata’s main train station) seemed unbelievable but upon further investigating I’ve discovered that two million people go through Sealdah each day along with 750 trains, which is seven times more than London Waterloo. Can you imagine being an adult lost and alone amongst that crowd, let alone a small child? Yet Saroo’s story is not a one off, it is part of everyday life for many children in India. Every hour five known children disappear in India (see Reuters), either through abduction, running away (from abusive family life) or families sending their children away to find work (normally they are too young to even be legally finding work).
Abduction is the most common form of child disappearance in India and 70% of the children lucky enough to be found have been sold into sex trafficking or slavery. 250,000 children went missing between January 2012 and March 2017 (which is 5 children every hour) but these are only the children that were registered as missing. Many families assume that their child has runaway and so do not report the disappearance, so there will in fact be many more children lost every hour than just 5.
The scene when Saroo makes a new friend, merely through the sadness they share in their eyes, a sense of hope sprouts. At last he isn’t alone at least. But this sense of security is dashed within moments as the little huddle of children are set upon by a group of grown men in the middle of the night, grabbing the children and throwing them over their shoulders before running off with them. Saroo manages to dart away but the men are too clever and they have the exit covered. We watch as little Saroo speedily and cleverly zips away, past the train guard who watches on, unmoved and complicit. He manages to race away and disappear into the night to safety. But what of the other 7 or 8 children? What is their fate?
The Guardian has written a very interesting article about the children of India that disappear in railway stations each year and how common an occurrence this is. Many homeless families will actually live in a railway station for shelter and so it is unsurprising then that so many lost children would also gather here.
The precise number of minors who go missing from Sealdah’s 20 platforms is not known. The only ones documented are those fortunate enough to be rescued. Between June 2016 and last May, 1,628 vulnerable children, most of them travelling alone, were retrieved – the highest number ever found at a single train station in India. Of these, 134 were girls and the youngest was four years old. Hundreds more were apprehended by police, entirely for their own safety.
Info taken from The Guardian
Through this quote, along with the information below about what actually takes place in Sealdah, it is very possible to believe the accuracy of the scene from Lion when Saroo escapes the child snatchers. In this quote from The Guardian, we hear from Babu Dey, who works for Cini (an organisation that seeks to protect the vulnerable children of Kolkata):
However, platform 4a is the most notorious. Lined by a dense tropical garden, dreadful crimes happen among the foliage at night, according to Dey: “People go missing from there.”
Info taken from The Guardian
Soon after Saroo goes onto to escape once more from other abductors, who this time are dressed up in smiles and nice clothing, but the perceptive child sees the danger and once again runs. This sees him spending the next two months living on the streets. From here a young man finds him and takes him to the police who, after advertising his photo and name (Saroo is too little to know his mothers name or place of origin), place him in what appears to be an orphanage, but one with bars and beatings.
Once again someone comes to Saroo’s rescue, this time a lady from a small adoption agency who organises a new life and new family for Saroo in Australia. This rescue must be bitter sweet for Saroo. At last a family and love yet thousands of miles from his real family and his real home.
20 years after Saroo is adopted, as a young and prospering man, he decides to try and trace his family. The search takes him 6 years, but eventually he finds his way home to the village he knew so well, where his mother is still living-determined that one day he would return home she has never left.
Well, by the end I was snivelling and wiping away tear upon tear at this beautiful ending to a devasting story. Yet despite the happiness of the ending, and the characters tears and the smiles, I could not get away from that feeling that despite what he had been through Saroo is one of the lucky ones. He escaped sex trafficking, he escaped slavery and he escaped poverty. I do not mean to diminish his pain and agony; he went through the unimaginable. But my heart breaks for every child whose fate is not so lucky. As I watched Saroo’s face and pain on that fateful train it wasn’t his face I saw, it was my children’s and that is how we should try to relate to this issue of loss and abduction. Each child is someone’s baby, someone’s world.
Right at the end we find out that little Saroo has his name wrong all those years. He was in fact named Sheru, which means Lion. The male lion is an animal recognised for its strength and courage, for its family commitment (lions are the only big cat to live as a family rather than alone) and for its phenomenal vision. They can see and perceive things undetectable to the human eye.
Saroo, without knowing the true meaning of his name, roamed as a lion all those years. He was brave and courageous, he used his vision to seek out danger and he used it to ceaselessly search for his family, and his family was always his highest priority. Even once he found his true family, his adopted family never wavered in importance to him. He had room and enough love for everyone.
So my parting question is this:
Is there a lion in you?
Will you be courageous for yourselves and also for others? Will you look for the needs around us and see the dangers of others? And will you prioritise family life? Not just your own, but the families around you who need support and help. Will you make a stand and say that in a world of abduction, reunion needs to be fought for? Do you have room and love enough for all?
Cini is a fantastic organisation that seeks to protect these lost children and one thing many of us could do is click on the link below and read about the work they do and maybe, if you are able, make a donation to their fantastic and ceaseless work.
Cini , an organisation supporting children just like your own.