Social Justice Poetry

Sunil Sharma

The Great Indian Mourning | A Social Justice Poem by Sunil Sharma

When little Rita died, her anemic Ma cried,
This eight-year-old was the quietest
Of the big quarreling brood.
Always caring for me and others,
Bringing leftovers from the families
Where the child ceaselessly worked long hours,
Her slender back broken by the labour of two adults,
Now she is no more, my precious child!
What will I do now?
Who else will do her chores?
She brought a few hundred rupees in our unlit hovel
We are poorer by those few hundreds.

Another rugged woman muttered,
Grieve not, sister Sita,
Your second daughter is finally free
From regular beatings by her drunk father,
And hunger and possible multiple rapes
By the rich slumlords and others in eternal wait.
The poor child is free at last!
And gone to heaven, we all hope so,
The poor are the favourite of God,
So the holy books say.
But we, the graying women
Are still hapless prey
To the male lust and power
That makes us cower,
In impoverished homes.

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Low Life/High-Rise | A Social Justice Poem by Sunil Sharma

Two workers non-descript
Heads tied in kerchiefs
Sunk cheeks and stomachs
But rippling biceps under
Their sweat-stained T-shirts
Eating a cold lunch kept in
A sagging newspaper
Spread out on the dusty mound.
The daily, their provisional plate and tiffin box,
The humble fare being shared.
Perched on the freshly-dug earth,
Legs crossed, unmindful of the stares
The chatting workers eat frugal.
A barred window, building vertical
Separates the quiet voyeur
From the hardships of unsung human labour.

Migrant Children Searching for a Better Life | A Social Justice Poem by Sunil Sharma

Anderson Daniel, all of seven,
Of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, sits on his haunches,
Completely tired,
And manages to have a wink of sleep, under a heavy table,
On the hot street in Tapachula, Mexico,
When he is caught on the camera by the lens man Robinson Chavez
Of the Los Angeles Times;
Daniel is part of a post-modern tribe of canguritos,
A wandering army of little kangaroos, with plastic trays
Attached to their shrunk bellies and offering goods like candies and cigarettes
For the users on those cruel streets, mobile vending machines;
The officers extort money and ask favour from the children who
From one living hell to another one, riding freight trains or by
Treacherous rivers or walking in jungles, with dreams in their eyes
Of a better, normal, civilized world, not run by tattooed thugs and gangs
Arranging transport of the hungry from despotic countries into
Another place, a mere El Dorado for the disenfranchised.
Be it any war-zone, conflict-area, or any other city;
Children poor and impoverished, suffer the most.
Wounded, scarred for life, they roam the streets, unprotected, and
In a cruel and violent adult world where no ethics survives the greed for money;
When will this universal torture and abuse of hapless kids stop?
And missing morality and some sanity restored to the ruthless
Tell me, mate, are we really civilized?

(Inspired by Tracy Wilkinson’s report on the migrant children in the Central America, LA Times, Saturday, August 2, 2014)

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Real Charity | A Social Justice Poem by Sunil Sharma

The suburban Mumbai family
Ordered a fancy bed for their master bedroom
Already gasping under the weight of items collected during the
discount offers.
They gave away the old teakwood bed
To an old employee of their workplace.
The gift was given free after much deliberation and introspection.
“We must do charity, at least, once in lifetime,” the wife told
the Scrooge-like hubby
Always turned on by new furniture/things and zeros in the passbooks.
“God always like such gestures and returns are always double!”
“Oh! Yeah!” nodded the man grimly, vestigial conscience alert
And the gift was given with much fanfare and flourish
To the beaming poor.
A week later, the woman asked the employee, pompously:
“How do you find the bed in your slum-room? It was very costly!”
The thin man smiled and said simply,
“Well, madam, I gave it away to my ailing neighbour
Not allowed to sleep on the bare floor by her doctor.”
The lady encased top-toe in designer wear
Felt the ground shaking under her!

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God | A Social Justice Poem by Sunil Sharma

On a rushed Mumbai morning, December — 2015
— The sudden overnight chill caused by climate change —
The office goer notices an elderly couple on haunches
Eating hot street food with bare fingers, near the busy cart,
— The plastic spoons are not for the beggars anyway —
Their mouths working hungrily over the little snack
As if it were the last meal of the day.
He makes a detour, despite getting late
Pays for the extra two plates of poha and resumes
His walk to the nearest bus stand and
While looking back for a fleeting instant
Finds the Narayana smiling on each gaunt face.

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