I was going to Maddi Lala’s shop for some toiletries. On the way, first I saw the family with 3 little sons. Two of them playing, and the eldest one – 8 year old, breaking stones. First comment in head was of course the clichéd child labor pity – poor kid, he should be playing, he is breaking stones with hammers. I did not click his picture. I guess we have seen enough of pictures/videos/stories on this, and there’s no need to expose the plight of these children any more to establish that child labor is pretty much prevalent in India. In a while, his dad arrived. I did not act like an NGO guy, by telling that what the hell was he doing, his son was not supposed to do the labor etc etc. Rather, I casually and curiously enquired, “school ni jaainch” (Did the children not go to school today?).
He replied, “nai saab jaate hai school, ab pahunche thodi der pehle”. I was wondering what else the child could do now in the village in this period after school. This is one of the poorest families I have ever seen. Asking the children to read something after school would have been too much of a demand. Parents have do not have education or enthusiasm to sit with their kids with books. The children can’t really play all the time after school. It was tough to conclude if it was really child labor. His dad would earn some money by selling those stones. Who knows how much of that money will be used in alcohol and how much in buying even a candy (forget clothes etc.) for the kid? Of course this scene was running totally counter to the Child Protection that our NGO focuses on. On one hand, child could hit his hand anytime with hammer and stones. On the other hand, the child might be experienced enough by now to carry this task seamlessly without any danger.
With these thoughts I reached Maddi Lala’s shop some 10 metres away. There a very young boy was sipping tea and having a cream roll. He was taking lunch-break from his tasks of walking all day selling saree and rugs. The conversation went like this:
“Kahan rehte ho tum”
“subha khane ka kya karte ho”
“subha kaun banaaye.. subha kuch nahi karte”
“subha khaana khaate hi nahi ho”
“aise hi nikal padte ho..? fir saare din kya karte ho?”
“aise hi samaan bechte hain ghar ghar mein”
“paidal chalte ho saare din?”
“fir yahan kisi dukaan pe chaay pee lete ho, hain? Raat ko khaate ho?”
“na na, raat ko pakate hain to, kamre pe”
“umr kitn hai tumhari?”
“kab se kar rahe ho yeh?”
“ho gaye 3-4 saal”
“gaon kahan hai tumhara?”
“ghar mein aur bhai behen bhi hain”
“haan haan, sab hai to, sab mazdoori dhyadi karte hain”
“school… kahan tak padhe?”
“school mein padha hi nahi kabhi.. ghar mein khoob koshish ki padhaane ki, main school se bhaag jata tha.. man nahi lagta tha school.. padhai mein”
Now I was speechless for sometime. I understand that this boy started the work at the age of around 13. He has never been to school and had no interest either. Who is responsible for this ‘child labor’? Is it the boring school that could not entice him to education? But then many other would have studied in the same school. Is it the parents, who could not engage him in something else at home, where he could have at least gotten two times meal? What could parents possibly do in family of 7 children, who are currently pooling in money at home, may be for sisters’ wedding or household expenses. Parents do not work, this boy told me. I can’t figure out what sustainable help can be extended to make this boy’s life better. Does he himself feel that his life needs to be bettered? In the small conversation I had with him, he never sounded complaining. If this labor is taken away from away from him, what will he do? I guess if there’s something that one can do for him, then it would be making him have breakfast somehow. Either he himself prepares or buys. He carries that heavy sack of rug on his back all day walking up and down hill. He might end up becoming anemic. Now I might be accused of underestimating the boy. And on the top of that, if he gets into alcohol/smoking (in case he hasn’t already), then that will complete the damage.