While visiting the library, a little known film crossed my curiosity, “Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids.” This 2004 Oscar documentary follows the children of children of prostitutes in Sonagchi, Calcutta.

It’s definitely not a protest film or an “exploitation” film. There is no violence or outward sexual exploitation.  Rather, these children were given cameras (via the Kids with Cameras project) and told to document their lives via photographs. To me the filmmaker did not take a ‘save the children at all costs.’ Rather, I believe she allowed them to help themselves. In the end, some children were able to extract themselves from the bonds of the ‘Calcutta’s Red Light District’ and some did not.

The latest update I could find of these children are as follows:

  • Avijit, 20, is studying film at NYU and thriving in the program and the city;
  • Kochi, 17, is studying at a private high school in Utah and getting top marks in all of her classes;
  • Manik, 17, and Shanti, 18, are both still studying at FutureHope, where they are doing very well;
  • Tapasi, 19, left Sabera on her own accord three years ago and has since married;
  • Suchitra, 22, has married and moved out of Calcutta; and
  • Puja and Gour are believed to still be living in the red-light district but have lost contact with Kids with Cameras.

The film, and many other like, scream social justice. From a Buddhist perspective this is all about social justice and following the fifth (5th) principle of the Eight Fold Path, Right Livelihood, meaning  one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully and not dealing in living beings (including slave trade and prostitution).

Like the Buddhist Monk and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, other religious organizations have joined the social justice movement. For instance, The Racine Dominican Justice and Rights Commission, established in 1989, provides a forum to address key issues of human rights and to care for Earth.

But in contrast, promoting social justice isn’t always easy. The Vatican recently rebuked the nuns for spending too much time “promoting issues of social justice” while failing to speak out often enough about “issues of crucial importance to the life of the church and society,” such as abortion and gay marriage.  I am not saying abortion and other issues are not important. But I believe all people are equal in the eyes of Christ and Buddha, not just the anti-‘this’ or ‘anti-that’ movement.

There are far much more social issues out there that demand justice.  And each of us, living each day, can be social justice proponents for the good of everyone. For instance, NY Times Staff Writer, Charles Duhigg hinted at the potential of choice in social justice when talking with Ira Glass of This American Life and the Chinese factory Foxconn:

Charles Duhigg: “So it’s not my job to tell you whether you should feel bad or not, right? I’m a reporter for The New York Times. My job is to find facts and essentially let you make a decision on your own. Let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will.

And that argument is– there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.

And what has happened today is that, rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation. So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you’re carrying in your pocket—

Ira Glass: Well, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again. But OK, yeah.

Charles Duhigg: I don’t know whether you should feel bad, right?

Ira Glass: But finish your thought.

Charles Duhigg: Should you feel bad about that? I don’t know. That’s for you to judge. But I think the way to pose that question is, do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones, and iPads, and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions exist because of an economy that you are supporting with your dollars.

Ira Glass: Right. I am the direct beneficiary of those harsh conditions.

Charles Duhigg: You’re not only the direct beneficiary. You are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then those conditions would be different overseas.

If we are the reason most things exist, then we can be the reason for change. As best you can, live the Eight Fold Path.

———- Postscript ———-

According to Zana Briski’s website, Kids with Cameras announced they entered a formal merger agreement with a Kolkata based charity named KIDS WITH DESTINY. Effective January 1, 2011, Kids with Cameras, a Salt Lake City, Utah and New York based charity will merge with KIDS WITH DESTINY, a Salt Lake City and Kolkata based charity.  According to Ms. Briski, Kids with Destiny is dedicated to serving underprivileged children in India, and the operations of Hope House will be one of its flagship programs.