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.