India Puts Children On The Front Line

Who is the government going to allow to cheer on the torch bearers as they pass through New Delhi? According to, "selected schoolchildren."
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As the Olympic torch circumscribes the globe causing flare ups in its wake, the biggest protest may be tomorrow in New Delhi. India is home to the Dalai Lama and was the first safe harbor for Tibetan refugees when China annexed their homeland in 1950. So it's no small wonder that the Indian government is rolling out reams of barbed wire to protect the Chinese embassy ahead of the torch's arrival. The New York Times reports that over 10,000 police officers ands members of India's security forces will safeguard the torch's route through the capital. Police even pre-emptively arrested dozens of Tibetan protesters earlier this week.

So in this state of heightened security, who is the government going to allow to cheer on the torch bearers as they pass through the city? According to The New York Times, ordinary civilians may be banned from attending the event with the exception, of course, of "selected schoolchildren."

I grew up in New Delhi and am fairly well acquainted with the creepy Indian tendency of using children for photo ops. Countless high security events happen in the capital every month, but schoolchildren are always dutifully trotted up past the guards to greet foreign leaders. Bear in mind that New Delhi stops all traffic through the center of the city for these events and police are on high alert. No adult civilian would be allowed within a mile of these dignitaries. Yet through my childhood in the 80s and 90s, with our waxing and waning relationship with Pakistan and the ever present danger of terrorism, children were always prominently featured in top security events. Adults have to line up far in advance and pass through numerous security checks to attend the city's Independence and Republic Day parades. Children are not only given a free pass, but rushed to the front.

The government isn't the only culprit. Schools opportunistically thrust pre-teens to the front of protest marches and demonstrations to up their profile. I remember attending nuclear arms protests before I had ever heard of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There was also an extraordinarily embarrassing episode when I was caught on tape mindlessly hectoring on about rising onion prices. "What will the poor eat?" I remember asking the cameras. This well prepared line vetted by my teachers is, in retrospect, the dumbest thing I have ever said. The bigger outrage was that onions had become a staple of a poor man's diet.

It always gave me a sense of exhilaration to be allowed into events that my parents would have to be thoroughly patted down to attend. But now, at a quarter of a century, I only feel used.

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