Love the Country, Can’t Stand the Scene

I don’t really know why I am writing this.

I drove roughly two hours today seeking a tea stall where I can have a cup of sweet and hot tea, deshi style, to enjoy the drizzle and the much waited rains after a week of stifling heat of Kolkata April.

My city mates might be frowning by now. Driving two hours looking for a tea stall? Well, in Kolkata every block has two of them.

That’s right. But I was looking for a tea shop that does not employ a kid as labour. I am not saying there is no such stall in my city. But today, on an approximate detour of 35 kilometers on my route, every single shop offered me tea through hands those are less than fourteen years old.

‘You and your un-Indian sensibility!’ said my friend enjoying my plight.

Article 24 of the Indian constitution clearly states that, “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment.” The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 designates a child as a person who has not completed their 14th year of age. It aims to regulate the hours and the working conditions of child workers and to prohibit child workers in hazardous industries.

‘Tea shop is not a factory or mine, besides these kids support their families,’ said my friend. But shouldn’t they be in schools instead?

Although the Constitution of India guarantees free and compulsory education to children between the age of 6 to 14 and prohibits employment of children younger than 14 in 18 hazardous occupations and 65 hazardous processes, child labour is prevalent in almost all informal sectors of the Indian economy. Companies including Gap, Primark, Monsanto and others have been criticised for using child labour in either their operations in India or by their suppliers in India.

Ours is a strange society. In India the poor send their children to work in inhuman conditions, almost sell the kids for bonded labour whereas the affluent middle class or the rich babysit children till they revolt – they are not taught any life skills. Strange contradiction.

‘It’s better than begging.’ My friend said, concerned at my temporary loss of reality. No it’s not. I can wager my day’s wage that a begging kid earns a lot more than a child labour. And the truth of the fact is it is because we are kind hearted people and love to give alms (up to few bucks) and buy mental comfort sitting in a social curse.

Government is whatever it can. Many NGOs like CARE India , Child Rights and You , Global march against child labor etc. have been working to eradicate child labour in India. In 2005, Pratham , an Indian NGO was involved in one of the biggest rescue operations when around 500 child labourers were rescued from zari sweatshops in North East Delhi. Child labour in India is a human rights issue of the world.

What we, the common people, do to get rid of this curse?

My pre-publication reviews are handled by my 16 year old son. ‘Don’t put this up, dad’ he says, his young face indignant. I am ashamed too. Yet ‘I love the country but I can’t stand the scene,’ Leonard Cohen says.

No Government and no NGO can cure this disease. Strategy and Logic will not be enough. We need to look into those pleading young eyes honestly and let our hearts take over. For once.

Feature Image credit: Ahmed Bashu

Music: Song ‘Ali Baba’ from album ‘Bandra Blues’ by Anjan Dutta – Thanks Anjan da!

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All opinions are solely those of the author. Reader's discretion necessary for using any of the contents of this website. (c) Pabitra Mukhopadhyay 2011
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