Innocence lost forever?
Last night I was reading an article on victims of child labour and child abuse. I went to sleep with a very disturbed mind. I could not stop thinking about these children or so called 'victims' who had unfortunately seen the ugly side of life. This, at an age when life should have been a little easy and safe, if not colourful. Their stories can horrify you, make you cry, make you angry at the dark side of the human nature.
I read the article not just as a regular reader but also as someone who has seen and met such children. This while covering stories on child labour and child abuse. Let me recall a few. Seema and Babli (names changed) were the two girls I first met while covering the issue. One extremely shy and soft spoken and the other vivacious and smart, both from very poor families, living in hutments along the roadside.
Seema is only 12-years-old but has seen far too much for her age. She was sold off to an old man by her father when she was just 10-years-old. The man sexually abused her for the few days she was with him. Seema eventually escaped and came back home, only to be employed as a maid in a large household. For a meager Rs 100 a month she was made to do all the household chores and was often beaten up for being clumsy or slow. She was also falsely accused of stealing money and shockingly even put in jail for it. She told me how the policemen spoke to her with absolutely no sympathy, beat her up often and even refused to give her food or water for the two days she had spent inside the lock-up. I was completely stunned by these revelations, which of course had come after a lot of soft talking and assurances. When I asked her what she wanted to do now, she said she just wanted to play with her friends and become a doctor one day. A wish that is so simple yet so complicated in the world she lives in.
Babli is 13-years-old and was almost married off to a boy her own age. Her mother did it not for money or social reasons but simply out of fear. Fear that her daughter would fall into the wrong hands. Babli casually tells me how young boys and men regularly abuse and rape girls in her area and how the police turn a blind eye, taking bribes and often blaming the girls for the crime. Her mother thinks she would be safe with her husband's family. How? I am not really sure but that was Babli's simple truth.
Then there was Deoli, a 14-year-old girl born into a family of bonded labourers. Deoli had started working at a stone quarry in Haryana ever since she was three, her small delicate hands gripping a hammer instead of a toy or a pencil. The quarry-owner regularly beat up men, women and children and did not let them wander beyond the work site. They were forced to work for 18 hours a day for just Rs 10 a month while surviving on a mixture of buttermilk and flour. An NGO finally rescued them in 2008. Leaving the quarry and coming to Delhi was a 'shocking moment' for Deoli. She says she was stunned to see that a totally different world existed outside. The gravity of her past life hit me hardest when she told me how they ate bananas with the skin on because they had not seen fruits and vegetables before. Nine years since she was rescued, Deoli is now a changed person. Always smiling, supremely confident and with a go-getter attitude, she cherishes her newfound freedom in a way you and I just don't.
She now lives in Rajasthan with her family, goes to school and takes tuitions in the afternoon. She has even attended a UN conference in New York where she narrated her story to a stunned audience which included the British PM, the queen of Jordan and many other world leaders. Back in her village, Deoli ensures that every child goes to school. She wants to join the police force when she grows up. Ask her why and pat comes the reply from this sunshine girl. "Jo baal majduri karate hai unko jail me dalungi (Those who practise child labour, I will send them to jail)."
Child labour is an issue that does not discriminate between the sexes. Boys definitely do not have an advantage here. If girls are mostly exploited for domestic work boys are exploited for hard manual labour.
One of the boys I spoke was Ashok (name changed) from Jharkhand. He was only 9-years-old when he was brought to Delhi on the pretext of a good education. Ashok was forced to work in a purse factory for more than 15 hours a day and for Rs 1000 a month. He was often hit with an iron scale for making small mistakes or for falling asleep at work. The marks on his small but rough hands are a silent reminder of the abuse he has faced over the years. Ashok told me how he often cried for hours at nights and dreamt about running away and leading a normal childhood.
He also recollected a day when the owner brought around 25 children to work in the factory. The young braveheart that he is, Ashok stole his owner's mobile to call the police for help. The police did arrive only to walk away with some money shoved in their pockets. Ashok is now determined to go back to his family and get an education. "I will never let my younger siblings suffer a similar fate like mine," he says with a determination that betrays his young age.
It is not easy interacting with such children. They narrate their horror stories with an innocence that is so hard to break free from. There were moments when we were overcome with emotions, moments when we had to take breaks just to clear our minds and moments when we all rode back in silence sincerely praying that these young boys and girls leave their painful past behind and try to live a normal life.
More about Trupti RaneTrupti is a correspondent with CNN-IBN having joined the channel in 2008. Starting out as a Desk Editor, she moved on to be a part of the Citizen Journalist team. An engineer by chance and a journalist by choice, Trupti did her masters in Journalism from Xavier Insitute of Communications, Mumbai. A cleanliness freak, she loves watching all kinds of angrezi cookery shows, though she wouldn't know most of the ingredients used in them. She loves collecting coffee mugs, fridge magnets and ancient looking things. Can be very impatient at times but is happiest when surrounded by nature. A true Goan, Trupti loves eating, dancing, making merry and leading a susegaad life.
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