The sun is shining on India. We are seeing progress on so many fronts be it technology, innovation or economic growth. Yes the sun is truly shining on India. But is it shining equally on everyone?
Meet twelve-year-old Meera. Her day begins at five in the morning. She walks two kilometers to fetch water for the family’s daily use. Then she helps her mother with the cooking. By eight in the morning Meera has to report to the quarry where she works. The sweat rolls down Meera’s forehead as she works in the sweltering heat of the sun, her little hands straining to pick up the stones and load them in the gampa. But this is by far the easier part of Meera’s job. The harder part is lifting the heavy gampa laden with stones and carrying it to the waiting truck where it needs to be loaded. There is no slacking off for Meera. She can’t work slowly so that she may make fewer trips to the truck. You see, she is paid per trip. Mr. Supervisor is waiting at the truck with his logbook to record the number of trips Meera has made. And Meera’s parents expect her to make at least five trips per day so that there is enough money to buy food for her and her younger brother and sister. At six and four, Meera’s siblings Geeta and Ashok are too small to work in the quarry. But it is only a matter of time…
Every day, at noon, Meera and the other workers are given a break for half an hour so that they may eat their meal. Meera sits down under the scant shade offered by a tree and spreads out her handkerchief on the ground. The handkerchief, like most of Meera’s clothes, haven’t been washed in a while for Meera’s mother goes out to work in the fields. It is only on Sundays that she finds the time to wash the clothes belonging to the family.
So, returning to Meera’s meal, she spreads out her handkerchief and places her little steel dabba on it. She opens the dabba to find the customary roti and meager portion of chutney her mother packs for her lunch every day. Meera is hungry for her last meal was the previous night. Breakfast is a luxury her family can ill afford. “Maybe if we have a good harvest this year, we will be able to eat three meals a day,” Meera’s mother whispers wistfully as she packs her dabba and tries her best to ignore the hungry appeal in her daughter’s eyes.
Meera breaks off a miniscule portion of the roti and dips it into the chutney. She likes to eat as slowly as possible to prolong her meal. Just as she is about to eat the roti, her gaze rests on a small dog that has wandered out from the far reaches of the quarry and made his way to the tree where Meera is seated. The dog sits before Meera and stares hopefully at her. Meera averts her gaze from the dog who looks like he hasn’t had a meal in days. His ribs are sticking out painfully from his sides. The dog whines piteously and flops down before Meera resting his head on his front paws and gazing up at the girl. Sighing, Meera breaks off half her roti and hands it to the hungry dog. The dog gratefully licks Meera’s hands and she smiles as she eats the rest of her meal. Her hunger is not appeased but her little heart is filled with a sense of well-being as she pats the dog.
Just then a school bus pulls into the quarry. The school children have been brought here on a field trip to show them the workings of a quarry. Meera stares at the line of boys and girls as they tumble out of the bus, all dressed in blue and white. They stand in a semi-circle before the teacher, listening as she gives them important information about the quarry. Meera is fascinated by the spectacle of boys and girls standing before the teacher. Some of them are listening with rapt attention. Others seem bored. Then the teacher takes them on a round of the quarry. Work has been temporarily suspended so that the children are not hurt by any of the flying pieces of stones, a hazard in most quarries.
Finally the children make their way back to the waiting bus. Some of them pull out packets of biscuits from their bags as they wait to board the bus. The dog Meera had fed earlier follows them eagerly hoping to get a few crumbs. One of the schoolboys thoughtlessly kicks a stray stone towards the dog and he yelps in fright as he scampers away to safety.
Yes the sun is shining on India but is it shining equally on everyone?
A few facts I am sure most people will agree with…
- School is the only place a child should be made to work.
- The Meera’s of India need to find their way out of quarries and other forced labour situations and into classrooms.
- And finally kindness and compassion are not necessarily learned in a classroom. They come from within.
A few hard facts on child labour and exploitation from Female Adolescent Workers Faceless and Fateless by Ayub Khan and Sumita Ayub
“Both in stone crushers and quarries adolescent girls work as casual labourers and perform secondary jobs i.e. to carry stones and load into trolleys. A group of 5-6 adolescent girls fills a trolley and they manage 8-10 trolleys a day. These girls are remunerated at the rate of Rs. 20-25 per trolley which they distribute among themselves at the end of the day. Due to the lack of technicality in work these girls are supposed to be the most unproductive and the lowest earner. In lieu of the hard work female adolescents put in, they are subjected to all sorts of exploitation at the workplace.”