Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whose child is it, anyway?

On 20 Dec evening I went to a fast food restaurant that is close to CKS office for picking couple of parathas for dinner. I have visited this place several times. But that day I saw a young lad of about 12 years old doing odd jobs at the restaurant. The social worker in me woke up. Usually I do not eat in places where they employ children. Since I had already given order for the food, I took the opportunity to educate the manager of the restaurant. As the discussion went on one more gentleman to joined towards the end. The discussion went this way: Puthumai: Sir, may I speak to you something? Manager: Yes Puthumai: It is about the little lad working here. Manager: (agitatedly) So, what? Puthumai: The boy looks too small to work in the restaurant. You know that no child below 14 years is allowed to work in any commercial or domestic establishment in India? Manager: (angrier now) So, what do you want me to do now? Shall I send him away? Then he will go around stealing things. He will start snatching from people's necks (gold chains). He will come and steal from your house! Why don't you take him to your house, feed him, clothe him and educate him. I have no problem! Puthumai: (changes the strategy) No, my point is not that you are doing something wrong. I wish to tell you that in case of a raid you could be caught for employing a child! Manager: Ha... I know all the officers. They come here. They sit and eat out here. The Food Officer once asked about a boy I had employed. I told him I shall meet him at his home. And I took the boy to him and I told him to keep the boy, feed him and educate him. That's it! Will he? No! He just let me go! Puthumai: I see! Where does this boy hail from? Manager: (with a softened tone) He is a tribal boy. Look, his father had three children. And he has left them, and is living with another woman. What will these children do? Start stealing? This boy was working with me for a few days. Then because he was naughty, I sent him away. And he started stealing petty things around. And one day the police picked him for snatching a woman's gold chain. They beat him and they sent him back, because there is no point in pursuing the case for police! What will they do with him? Sent him to juvenile home? There are too many there, already. And pressing a case against him is useless for them. Then again I brought him here. At least he gets to eat here and gets some small amount of money. And learns the job! Can the government give job or teach job to everybody? Puthumai: No, that is not possible. Manager: Exactly. And if these boys are not engaged, then they will become Maoists! A customer: What did you say? Manager: What else? It is easier for the politicians to speak all big things. But can they do it? Can they educate and feed all children in the country? What is the perceptional rule in the country? Tribals are Maoists, Muslims are Terrorists! That's the perception going on.... Puthumai: Well, Sir, I need to go. But it was interesting to talk to you. See you. Good night. Manager: Good night. I began to wonder on my way back - With the Food Security Bill on the anvil in the Indian Parliament, and the Right to Education Act in place already, can we really change the mindsets? Can we really change the life of Indian children's destiny positively? Can the governments really take up these practical issues seriously? Or, are we going to be consigned to the fate of having millions of children like this one in the land of Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen growing up uneducated, less fed and with no social respect for himself?

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