Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Born in India

When I opened my eyes, I looked at the roof and a drop of water fell on me. The tarpaulin had a hole, and smoke from the Chula almost choked my breath, my legs were weak and I felt hollow inside.  When I was five, I realized we ate just once in a day and my father drank whenever he had enough money. By the time I was seven , I was taken to sethji (wealthy employer) to work at his house. There I saw someone like me, he had more clothes than me and was heavier too. He had “khilone” (toys) and a small bed for himself. One day he was eating something wrapped in a plastic and as “mem sahib” (wife of employer) called he ran and left behind two pieces of the wrapped thing on the floor. I picked them up and looked at them and unwrapped one and placed in my mouth, sethji  seeing me shouted “chori kar raha hai” (he is stealing) and thrashed me and threw me out of the house. At home father scolded me.
As I was ten, I was rolling biddis (Indian cigarettes) and also worked at the local tea-shop. One day a traveler asked me, “ Tum school nahi jate?” (Don’t you go to school?) and I laughed and said “wo kya hota hai” (What is that?)

This is the story of Madhav. 

Well not the story of one Madhav but more than 50% of the children of India between the age of 6 and 14. We do not need the support of statistics to prove it. We would have been “the traveler” most of the times.  It is easy to question them why they don’t go to school but no one provides them any alternative. The situation is worse for the girl child if she survives the successive stages of feticide, killing and death due to malnutrition. Even if she escapes infanticide or feticide, a girl child is less likely to receive immunization, nutrition or medical treatment compared to a male child. [1] Statistics are mere indicators; the actual story will be way brutal than the worst of imaginations. Madhav was born in India, he should have thanked fortune for not being born as Madhvi. There was one-sixth chance he would have survived.

Merely enacting the RTE (Right to Education Act), or the Child Labor Act or for that matter the Juvenile Justice Act is enough. How many of the complaints at 1098 (Child helpline number) have been solved and for that matter how many children know of this number? [2] Well if it were so then being born in India would be a matter of pride not only for a selected few but for everyone.  Madhav was born in a shanty but had he been provided education at elementary level, things could have been different. The problem is justice was denied to him and in such cases children cannot find endless legal battles or for that matter childhood lost cannot be regained.

That brings us to a very pertinent question - What can be done?

Statistics : Before answering this question let me take you for a ride into some eye-opening statistics published by the honorable Government of India (Ministry of statistics and Programme Implementation):
  • As per the NFHS -3 (2005-06), nearly 11.8% children age 5-14 years works either for their own household or for somebody else.
  • The very young children (age 5-7 years), both boys and girls, are mainly doing unpaid work for someone who is not a member of their household. The older boys age 12-14 are mainly engaged in paid work or family work, whereas girls in this age group are involved mainly in household chores or family work.
  • An increase of 122.2% has been observed in cases of ‘importation of girls’ during 2010-11, and 56% of these cases reported in 2011 are from Madhya Pradesh.
  • In 2010, IMR is reported to be 47 at the national level, and varies from 51 in rural areas to 31 in urban areas.  [3]
The statistics are endless presenting nothing but a gruesome picture of our hinterland. The worst part of these situation being it is wholly a avoidable one.3/4th  of Indians were poor, spent 3/4th of their income on food but 3/4th of the children were under weight.47% of Indian children under five are categorized as moderately or severely malnourished. When on one side of the world people are weight conscious gymming and dieting there are children of India who die of malnutrition. Sadly human fat cannot be traded unlike carbon credits. [4]

Government policy: Government has done its bit too, although out of every 100 rupees spent by it a meager 3 paisa is spend on child education and programs. To say that the government has done nothing would be a gross under-assessment. For its part government has launched several programs like:
  • National nutrition policy
  • SABLA(Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent girls)
  • IGMSY( Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana)
  • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan(SSA)
While the government boasts of a high enrollment rate of around 94% no one makes the effort of looking beyond the enrollment, a UNESCO report says just 20% of those attended schools. If the both the reports were true then the ground reality is definitely not as pleasant as the government claims. [5]

We may well celebrate the World day Against Child Labour on 12th of June every year yet the “chotu” and “munni” (generic names of children working at tea stalls and homes in India) continue to serve us. We might argue we are providing the employment but deep within we all know what he/she wants is education. For education alone could rid their family of poverty. The political will is lacking but to add to that is public sympathy. What they want is you apathy to understand their misery. We are ready with our argument,” In this fast paced life who has the time!!” But then again it is for this reason you had voted and laid the foundation of democracy. Your job didn’t end. If they are not listening, it’s your duty to make them listen otherwise democracy loses its meaning. 

A beginning: Although a welfare state, we still cannot hold the government responsible for all our problems. There are steps which even we should take at our level. We can take inspiration from the case of Mrs  Mukti Gupta. More than a decade ago, when Mukti encountered yet another urchin knuckling on her air-conditioned car pane with ‘Didi, teen din se kuch khaya nahin’, she didn’t respond with a dismissive ‘Maaf karo’. She went home and proposed, ‘Can we set up a school for them?’ When people like you and me indicated that buses are for commuting in and not for running schools, Mukti stripped off the seats to create a clean 175sq ft sitting facility with desks and a ‘wall’ plasma TV for audio-visual learning. When someone suggested that urchin-entrepreneurs are too busy scraping a living to go to school, Mukti proposed that her bus school would teach the kids a vocation for immediate monetization and provide them with fruits, so that once they saw this as financially and nutritionally rewarding, they would prefer to come back (and only then be gradually drawn into the teaching programme).

The example of Mrs Mukti is not only for us but also for the government to follow. The government has to teach them something more than elementary education. If we have to prevent them from working, besides education we need to provide them hand-in-hand skills training which will not leave them employed in hazardous industries, bidi-making, theft and other immoral acts. What we need is a trained and educated individual who doesn’t go unemployed at the end of his childhood such that he is able to live his childhood and satisfy the income problem of his family, which will in turn make people send their children to schools. And there should be a pro-bias for the girl child in the form of compulsory scholarship for higher education in case of meritorious students and some form of post-marriage knowledge which will go a long way in curbing the evil problem of child marriage in India which is not there in books but the harsh reality faced by people. [6]

The future: May be a decade later a Madhav will again be born in India in a shanty but will not be employed by sethji or will steal a chocolate but will be studying in a school and by 20 have a mobile repairing shop and support his family. A madhvi will be born too with higher chances of survival, will go to school and learn weaving and work at a garment center and help her father in raising her siblings, and will not be a burden to marry off but an asset to part with. She will then marry at an age when she knows the meaning of marriage. They will then be if not privileged at least happy to have been given an opportunity rather than the Madhav of today who had no opportunity.  Down the lane, less of people might be inclined to join insurgency operations or riots because they will know the true meaning of education. India will change from being a country of huge unskilled labour to a country of buyers. In the words of our Hon’bl President Shri  Pranab Mukherjee –

In my view, education is the true alchemy that can bring India its next golden age.

  4. Yojana Magazine(November 2012)
  5. Kurukshetra Magazine(September 2012)
Rajan Agarwal was Born In India and takes keen interest in the issues that plague his country. You may write to him at

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