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What about Rubina?

The shock waves haven't stopped after a British tabloid claimed that Rubina's father Rafiq Qureshi tried to sell her for nearly 300,000 dollars to the tabloid's reporters.

Written by Harneet Singh | Mumbai |
April 23, 2009 12:53:49 pm

The soap opera around ‘Slumdog Millionaire’s’ child actor Rubina Khan rages on. The shock waves haven’t stopped after the British tabloid ‘News of The World’ claimed that Rubina’s father Rafiq Qureshi tried to sell her for nearly 300,000 dollars to the tabloid’s reporters who were posing as the agents of a wealthy Arab Sheikh during a sting operation.

Even the hardest hearted cynic will feel for the nine year old. While the debate on the ethical legitimacy of the sting operation rages – with many believing it wasn’t ‘fair’ of the British tabloid to hoodwink a poverty stricken family – the fact remains that Rubina is a picture of innocence lost and her rights and interests are being exploited for a few sensational headlines.

Her life is being played out in our living rooms. With her biological mother and step mother slugging it out openly on the streets and her father being arrested,Rubina has been stripped of her dignity that she has full rights to. The recent media scrutiny is bound to have a negative impact on her.

The latest update on her front is that the ‘Jai Ho’ trust,which was established with the financial support of the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ filmmakers,has come forward to look after Rubina’s welfare. A social worker has been hired by the trust who will make sure that the education needs of both Rubina and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail (the young Salim) are taken care of. According to producer,Christian Colson,Rubina will also be given a lump sum of money after she turns 18.

The intention is noble but the skeptic in me wonders about its feasibility. A similar experiment was tried with the Salaam Baalak Trust,which was formed to look after the kids who were part of Mira Nair’s 1988 Oscar nominated ‘Salaam Bombay’.

The trust looked after the welfare of some 20 odd children who,like Rubina and Azhar,were also plucked from the slums of Mumbai to act in the film. The trust tried earnestly but despite its best efforts most of the kids went back to darkness. Two of the cast members died — one from an AIDS-related illness and the other in a motorcycle accident. As for Shafiq Syed who played the principal lead,Krishna in the film,he is currently driving an auto rickshaw in Bangalore. He is bringing up three children on his meagre day to day living.

Like Rubina and Azhar,Shafiq’s rags to riches story was also well-chronicled. At the age of 12,he ran away from his home in Bangalore and took shelter under a flyover near Churchgate station. Life changed when Nair’s crew conducted a theatre workshop with some slum kids.

Shafiq was handpicked to play the lead for the Oscar nominated movie for which he reportedly pocketed Rs 15,000. Like Rubina he too was feted in newsprint but alas he was unable to get another big break.

We can just hope that Rubina and Azhar’s script is different from that of Shafiq’s. And though it’s heartening to note that the Oscar winning filmmakers have a conscience and really want to ensure that the kids benefit from their involvement with the movie,they cannot be held to ransom if the children are unable to make it in their lives. It’s not easy to map anybody’s life,let alone a child who lives in the slums.

For every Rubina and Azhar,who at least have a shot at having a better future,in contrast is the heartbreak of so many other kids and the bleakness they encounter everyday. They don’t have Hollywood film-makers or fancy sounding trusts to help them. What about them?

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