Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Will Pinki ever smile again?


The famous smile of Oscar winning Pinki has disappeared. She has stopped going to school and is back to the daily grind of domestic chores

Ambujesh Kumar / Mirzapur

Pinki hit the headlines when she played the lead role in the Oscar winning documentary “Smile Pinky” which was shown all over the world and became the young child ambassador of hope and optimism. A few months down the line, the little girl is back to square one - abject poverty and helplessness from where she does not know how to bounce back.

Sopan-Step found Pinki Sonkar in Rampur Dhabai village in UP’s Mirzapur district where she is back to doing all the household chores, including carrying firewood on her young shoulders after her moment in the sunshine. Shockingly, she does not study now; education has become a distant dream for her. The famous smile on her face is now gone – forever.

Pinky got admission in Lucknow Public school (LPS) in Hardoi in July 2009 and the institute was supposed to give her free education till Class XII. After reaching Class I and studying for a year, she went to her village around Diwali in 2010 and did not return back to the school.

The Director of LPS, Sushil Kumar lamented that the family members of Pinky treat her as a celebrity and not a child and just want to encash her name for their petty ends and blamed her father and other family members for her plight.

When Sopan-Step found Pinky in her village, located at a hilly terrain, some 60 kms from the holy city of Benares, she was clad only in her underwear and carrying a heavy load of firewood on her head. Her mother Shimla Devi was busy with her other two children Rinki and Talu. Pinky’s elder sister Anju was cleaning the utensils while younger brother Lalu was playing around.

She told us that she was forced to come back from Hardoi as her father, who was given employment in the school itself, did not like the new place. She said she was studying, getting food in the school and was enjoying her life but blamed her father for taking her back to the village.

What a setback for the seven-year old Pinki, the 39-minute documentary on whose life, directed by Megan Mylan, brought her instant fame and world-wide recognition not long ago in 2008. The documentary showed the story of a poor girl whose life was transformed when she received free surgery to correct her cleft lip. Made in Hindi and Bhojpuri, the short film won the 81st Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Then five, Pinki was living with a severe cleft lip in one of the poorest districts of the country. She was not allowed to attend school at her village and ostracised because of her deformity and lived a life of quiet desperation. She kept wondering if she will ever receive the cleft surgery as her parents could never afford it. By chance, Pinki's parents meet a social worker one day who took her to a hospital that provides free cleft lip surgery to poor children each year through The Smile Train program. That transformed her life, at least for the time being.

Not now. She is back to what she was doing. Her entire story now looks like a dream. Her visit to the United States, her celebrity status for a while, the media acclaim – everything is now gone.

“I will go to America and never come back now,” the seven-year old girl said. Pinki recalled how she got admitted in the Hardoi school, her father got a job there but decided to return back to his village, forgetting what she wanted. Narrating her woes, she said that she goes to the nearby forest, collects firewood, helps her mother in cooking and also makes cowdung cakes, used as a fuel.

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