Indias Caste System Under Fire Over Slumdog Child Star 2009: Reports Slumdog

Indias caste system under fire over Slumdog child star

Reports of a Slumdog Millionaire child star being offered for sale by her father have led to criticism of the film-makers Past the shops
selling mutton and electrical goods, past the children playing on the train tracks and the goats munching quietly on cauliflower leaves, Rafiq Qureshi sits in a dwelling constructed from asbestos sheeting. The place is airless – the power gone – and outside an open gutter gushes with purple dye. People peek in curiously. Qureshi cuts an unhappy figure: unshaven, sleepless, anxious. It has been a difficult week, in which he has moved from the slums, to the newspaper front pages, to the police station. Now he is back where he started. Qureshi is the father of Rubina Ali – the child actor who starred as the young Latika in Slumdog Millionaire – and last Sunday he was the unlikely subject of the latest sting by News of the World investigative reporter Mazher Mahmood. This is the man who exposed drug-taking by DJs Johnnie Walker and Richard Bacon, and who led to Sophie, Countess of Wessex, giving up her PR job in 2002, after she was recorded saying that, among other fairly strident views, she considered William Hague “deformed”. In an extensive article, Mahmood wrote that he had heard that Qureshi would consider “the highest offer for his child”, and that the newspaper had then decided to approach him, masquerading as “a wealthy Arab princess from Dubai and the middle man negotiating for her”. Suggesting that the husband of the “princess” was an Arab sheik who wanted to adopt Rubina and take her to live with him, Mahmood wrote that Qureshi had agreed to sell his daughter for &pound200,000. The fallout from the story was quick and brutal. With the world’s media descending on Garib Nagar – “the city of the poor” – where Qureshi and his family live, cameras caught Rubina’s estranged mother, Khurshida, and her stepmother, Munni, grappling, tugging each other’s hair, hands reaching for each other’s throats. Khurshida also reported her former husband to the police, leading to him first being questioned, then released without charge. The film’s director, Danny Boyle, has talked about the concerns he had when casting Rubina and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, who plays the character of the young Salim. “Part of you thinks, ‘Would it distort their lives too much'” he said. “Then someone said ‘These people have so much prejudice against them – why should we be prejudiced against them as well” As the film shows, the prospects for children in these communities can be extremely bleak a scavenger’s existence played out among a corrugated patchwork of roofs. Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of the charity Plan India, who has been working at a grassroots level for 20 years, says that children in the slums face a significant lack of sanitation, drinking water, education and healthcare, and describes children as young as six selling chillis on the side of the streets. Kate Redman of Save the Children says that “in the worst case scenario, obviously, they’ll actually struggle to survive, because access to healthcare is so low that they’re dying of very, very simple things like diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria – and their malnutrition is leaving them very vulnerable”. In the case of Rubina and Azharuddin, the film’s producer, Christian Colson, has said that there was “a conscious decision” not to shower the children with money, because it might be difficult for them to cope with it “psychologically and practically”. There was anger earlier this year when it was reported that they had been paid just &pound500 and &pound1,700 respectively, with Qureshi saying that he had initially thought that this was a fair price “but now we see that [the film] has done so well, I am not sure”. The film’s distributors disputed the quoted figures, and, while they wouldn’t specify the exact fees, suggested that, for the equivalent of a month’s work, it amounted to three times the average annual adult salary of a person from the children’s neighbourhood.
When we tried to speak to Boyle and Colson this week, we were told that they did “not feel it would be helpful to the children to fuel public interest by making any further comment”. They also put out a statement from the Jai Ho Trust, which they set up “to support the welfare of the child stars of the film”, and this specified that a social worker had been hired to help assist in Rubina’s welfare that the family would be provided with “suitable accommodation” education would be provided for Rubina, Azharuddin and their siblings and, at the age of 18, the two actors would have access to a significant lump sum of money. The filmmakers also recently announced a &pound500,000 funding package, to be administered by development charity Plan, which will provide health education programmes for children in the slums.

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