A new documentary about the plight of orphans in India makes its premiere tomorrow in Santa Ana, CA. Mother India: Life Through the Eyes of the Orphan digs fairly deep in its brief 47 minutes, showing both the harrowing and hopeful sides of a group of 25 homeless children -- a tiny segment of India's 31 million orphans -- who live together as a "family" along a railway in southern India.
We learn some of their horrific stories -- beaten and tortured by parents, abandoned, sold into sex trafficking, and more -- and we see their almost unbearable living conditions -- sleeping on the streets, living among filth and waste, exposed to the elements, mosquitoes, and evil adults. The children try to sustain themselves by "cleaning" the floors of trains that stop at the station, begging for a few rupees, maybe picking up the equivalent of a dollar on a good day.
They cope by "huffing" on a product that's a type of correction fluid and passing around dirty syringes found on the ground, injecting whatever is in them -- the children didn't know -- just to help alleviate the pain -- physical, mental, psychological, spiritual. Several have HIV/AIDS; others carry varying illnesses, malaria likely among them. Several are missing limbs, lost when trying to jump the moving trains. One's heart breaks for them.
Filmmakers David Trotter and Shawn Scheinoha were most interested in earning the children's trust so they could tell an unadulterated story, strictly from the orphans' point of view, and they mostly succeed. It doesn't feel sensationalistic, voyeuristic, or manipulative. They're just filming things as they really are.
Astonishingly, some of these kids still hold out hope for a better future, part of that a result of their optimistic leader, a 20-something guy missing a leg who has decided to take the other kids under his wing and protect them as best as he can. But he's homeless and jobless too, so there's only so much he can do.
A brighter ray of hope comes through late in the story, giving some of the kids an opportunity for a fresh start. Will they take it? We won't spoil the ending.
The film is narrated by Christian musician Rebecca St. James and features music from Switchfoot's Jon Foreman, Sean Watkins, and others.