Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Lost Childhood


My local grocer has a prized employee. He is quick and agile on his feet, obeys each command instantly, smiles all the time and is ever ready to please all his customers. It also helps that all the people who buy groceries there, like him too. I was in fact shocked the first time I saw him. He was trying his level best to carry a 10kg sack of rice to a car parked near by. He did not look strong enough to carry the load, Tiny feet, tiny hands, he could not have been older than my younger daughter, Ayushi, who is nine.


"Do you go to school?" I asked. He just smiled. "Do you know you have the right to go to school now?" He smiled again. He did not know what 'Rights' meant. All he knew was he had to some how get the sack to the car.I was angry that an able bodied man, who was more than 3 times his age and size, expected him to carry his rice. The heaviest burden my daughter has ever carried was her school bag. Most mornings, her father, taking pity on her, carries it himself to her school.


"Why do you employ him?" I asked my grocer. " Where will he go ma'am? He has nobody. He works here. Sleeps here. Most of my customers pay him some money when he delivers their grocery home. He keeps that money plus his salary here. If I turn him out, he will have nowhere to go. He will probably end up in a home for juvenile delinquents. Do you know what goes on there?" 


I do know. But still it was heartbreaking to see a boy that small work for his keep. I also knew he was not alone. There are millions of little children in India, working in worse conditions just for survival. They peddle books at traffic signals, work at road side tea stalls, pick rags, clean houses. Their parents are too poor and too ignorant to know how education can change their lives. Sometimes even knowing does not help. They need the money the little ones bring home. Childhood, a tender time which should be reserved for play, laughter, exploration and reading, is forever lost to these children. The condition of the girl child is of course much worse.


India, which is slated to be one of the top economies in the year 2020 does not care for its poor and homeless children. Neither do the Indians. The local schools will not take such children. Neither will any family agree to offer street kids free food and boarding while they completes their studies.The child working in a grocery store of a prime area of Mumbai knows that. That is why he does not complain while carrying those heavy sacks. 


He has no body to complain to.



47 comments:

Jyothi said...

Sad Story. But the grocer is right, and so are you. And you are both Indians. He is doing his part, and you are doing yours by making us aware. So I guess there is hope for India!

R. Ramesh said...

absolutely right ya...the rich-poor gap is scary...the affluence seems to be a bubble..

Ishi said...

absolutely true..bt its really shameful atleast fer the educated people like us..evn if we cant help them financially-we should hv d courtesy not to atleast burden them like carrying d loads /sacks!
but i really appreciate the execution..n d choice of d image!

Girish said...

Very sad story which we see everyday around us..!
The grocer seems actually nice and there's nothing others will do for a poor kid, simply because we have been brought up in a society where such things are very common and nobody thinks twice about the plight of the poor kids..!
Very nice image...

kavita said...

Survival is the biggest challenge for them .At least that kid is not into stealing or other illegal activities .I have no hopes from our Govt. but think if the affluents cut on their extra expenditures they can help at least few kids .It is possible if one tries....trust me ! And it is important to make sure that the help goes to the kids not to their parents/guardian.

One can start by buying an earthen gullak/piggy bank(costs just 10-15 bucks)...keep some amount of money there on daily basis...break it at the end of the year...to your surprise there will be enough money to help at least one to two such child.Tried and tested.

The Panorama said...

So true, Aparna. But notonly in India, anywhere in the world...nobody cares for the poor. The poor are called lazy and looked upon with suspicion.

That poor boy has no choice. The grocer could though send him to school and have him work later after school. But how can we expect charity from others first when we ourselves only stand by and watch?

Touching post.

Nona said...

Sad indeed!

Aparna said...

Jyothi, I wanted to yell at the grocer for employing him, but could not. He is doing what he thinks is right perhaps.

Ramesh,you are right.

Ishi,thank you.

Girish, yes, this is so common in India that we do not even blink at this.

Kavita, you are absolutely spot on.There are a lot of people who help out such kids and have been doing it for years. The piggy bank idea is fabulous. Will tell my kids about it.

Panorama, I have tried sending a poor kid to school here. There are so many hassles that ordinary people have just given up. Most kids do not have birth certificates which are the biggest deterrent. Then there are address proofs and parents consents and what not. The good schools do not want to admit such children the parents of other kids would complain, which they do. I can go and on.

Nona, :(

Tiger said...

On the flip side, the kid is much better than many of us. In terms of freedom , choice and happiness. Irony!

wordsndreamz said...

It is heartbreaking. So many children are in the very same situation. Nothing changes for them, even if he now has the right to education..

PURN!MA said...

I don't know what to say to this. And this is more saddening than the plight of the boy, cz as much as we know it is wrong/ sad, we don't actually know what to DO!

touching post, Aparna.

crackedchronicles said...

We boast that we are a country of educated Engineers and Doctors and somehow these very educated people keep little children as servants. I still remember my days in Delhi living near the Mecca of education like IIT and JNU where you can find little children working all around. Yes it's a shame and somehow we educated Indians have learnt to conveniently ignore this form of child abuse.

Well written Aparna.

BK Chowla, said...

This is the story of neglected India.

budh.aaah said...

This post here by you about that small child is your 'one drop' in this vast ocean..if only we all contribute our one drop each this would be a different world alltogether..keep it up..never turn a blind eye..even words help..they might motivate someone somewhere do their bit 'woh ek boond'..

Destiny's child... said...

The worst thing to happen to anyone is poverty. The grocer might be protecting the child from juvenile homes but at the same time he is denied education. The worst part is, we don't know what to do! And from your reply to Panorama, I gather it's just as difficult as it seems....a very touching post.

Kavi said...

As a society, we are becoming a selfish society. More keen on looking at what works for us and what serves us well !

Expediency comes back to bite us ! Often. And we dont learn.

Tomz said...

This post truly memorising a lot of social problems..So often I was left with tears in my eyes seeing the image results shown by Google with the keyword 'child labour'..

Life is not fair to anyone..But childhood is a marvelous period of life. I hope these depressed children also will rmbr the childhood days when matured..

blunt edges said...

Hmmmm...It's a pity that all we do is talk about it!

kirti said...

Sad and true. The more sad thing is there are kids worse off than this little boy, we see them all around in India.
Atleast this boy has food , shelter and no threat of physicsl abuse.

crackedchronicles said...

Forgot to say Loved Ayushi's painting. She sure is gifted :)

Nikita Banerjee said...

Its a sad state of affairs but I guess working like that keeps him away from the evils of the Juvenile Homes.

I don't know if you have read the recent reports about malnourished orphans at a certain Home. It is horrifying.

sujata said...

The situation is such that if we uproot these kids from the shops they work in..they will be adrft unless we take full responsibility of them. But I advocate groups like 'each one teach one' and also sponsoring a child in various NGO operated orphnages which have very transparent schemes, wherein you can see the progress of the child you sponsor.

Kanupriya said...

Hi, this is just so true. We often feel angry on those employing these young souls but you know if they won't where will these kids go. I had also got similar answer from a friend who had employed a young gal, she told at least this way the gal was safe. If she will not keep her, there are enough wolves out there to use her in whatever way they want. Sad but her point was very true and valid.
BTW whose painting is this? Very very cute :)

Swatantra said...

very right!!

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

It's a sad truth. I'm sure our hearts go out to the boy.I guess if you ask him, he'll say he's lucky!! Perhaps the consolation is that he is free from so many other ills that abound round him.

Aparna said...

Tiger, I don't think the child has all the rights we have. The child has simply accepted his fate.

wordsndreamz, he might have the right to education but the schools are certainly not queuing up to admit him.

Purnima, I also do not know what exactly can be done to better the kid's situation.

Sakshi, keeping young children as domestic help is pretty common. There have been such cases in my family too.Thanks for appreciating Ayushi's painting.

BK Chowla, yes it is.

Budh.aaah, boond boond se hi sagar banta hain.

Destiny's child, by denying him an education, we are actually denying him a better life.

Kavi, we have become a morally bankrupt nation. Or am I being too harsh?

crackedchronicles said...

Sigh!! me thinks you have changed your plans of adopting me :( I had to pay a huge prize for shifting to WP by loosing Sujata and your comments *sobbings*

SG said...

Aren't we all "limousine liberals". Just read, write, and talk about these unfortunate kids and then mind our own business.

starry said...

sad indeed!

The Holy Lama said...

The child here is well protected. He gets to earn his living, will pick up basic language and math from the shopkeeper, is safe from other nerds and has a place to sleep. It can be really worse for the poor children. Aparna , you may buy him a pair of new clothes or shoes or call him over for food on a festival day. We can do only the sometime and something....the shopkeeper is there for him always. Being there always for such kids is a big responsibility.

Aparna said...

Tomz, child labour is very sad indeed.

Blunt edges, or talk about it?

Kirti, yes the boy did seem happy and that was a big consolation.

Nikita, yes I read those articles, horrific.

Sujata, there is very good NGO working for some slum kids here in my area. It is run by a woman and she does some outstanding work.

Kanupriya, the sketch was done by my younger daughter Ayushi, she is 9 years old.

Swatantra, thank you.

Keats the sunshine girl, he is indeed luckier than a lot of other children.

Sakshi, your WP blog has a privacy setting and I can not enter it :( Link it to your blogspot blog, that will help.

SG, yes, we are.

Starry, :(

Holy lama, the grocer is doing his best by keeping him off the streets, that is a big thing. I just wish he could attend school.

Onkar said...

Very profound post. A holistic approach is required to deal with the problems of poor children in our society

Anrosh said...

vatsalya - an organization that works for children

http://www.thevatsalyafoundation.org

Dr.Antony said...

We have a child labor prohibition act,by which it is punishable by 2 years imprisonment,if you employ any one less than 14 years of age.But then,what would these children do otherwise?

Some time back,I had written a blog " Cheaper than buffaloes".Children are being sold,especially girls,for amounts as low as 1000 rupees.
The worlds highest number of working children are in India,around 12 million.About 2 million are forced in to pornography and prostitution. Around 60% of all working children are subjected to sexual exploitation. Staggering?

There is no easy solution.Rules are not going to change any thing in India.Improving living standards is possibly the only way.Often the child's labor is the only way of survival in the family.

Scribbler said...

I have kind of exact case in my locality with a better twist though..the boy who works at the grocery store is a relative of the store owner and he just lets him work there for earnings [possibly for the same reason as to where would he go otherwise et al] but the boy goes to school as well and sleeps at the store owners home...a slightly better condition but yes he is spending his childhood in a grocery store learning to manage customers and reciting ate-dall ka bhaav !

Chandrika Shubham said...

Problem is there but we all have to put our best efforts to solve it.

Touching story.

R. Ramesh said...

hey buddy thanks ya

Rachna said...

I agree with the Holy Lama. Though, I am against child labor. Look at what he is protected against. He gets some food and gets to pick up some skills. We have all heard about the horror stories of delinquent home. Sad as it is, this seems to be a better option for the child.

commited to life said...

so very true..

my mom tells me sometimes its good to employ kids.. atleast n this way they get to eat they get to live somehow...

its a scary dilema...

p.s was just passing by

Neo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RGB said...

Sad state of affairs indeed when children can't enjoy their childhood. But there are many instances where the children themselves are unwilling to go to a school, let alone study. Many bloggers have written about them. You put them in a school after going through all the difficult procedures only to find them back in the streets begging or doing odd jobs for a living! A massive rehabilitation needs to be thought of, where the parents & children are educated for things to be any different.

Sandhya said...

When there is no one to support them, this is the best way to survive. Otherwise they might start stealing things. No one is there to say what is wrong and what is right. At least here, some customers respect and show love to him in some way!

A said...

Indian is the country of extreme contrast..rich is the richest in the world and poor is the poorest in the world. It is a sad story.

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