By Neha Bhandarkar:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head held high…
…Into that heaven of freedom, let my country awake”
I am not quite certain about what Rabindranath Tagore’s consciousness underwent, when heÂ wrote this poem about ideal freedom. As far as my thought process is allowed to imagine, I am presuming Gurudev with his utmost faith in God must have envisaged a place that will be free for its denizens, and that it will be a haven of fearlessness and liberty.
Better late than never! Speaking in the context of the recent decision of the Union Cabinet on August 29th 2012 to completely ban the employment of children below the age of 14 years and restrict non-hazardous working conditions for adolescents between 14 to 18 years-of-age. Engaging a child under 14 for any work will be a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment up to two years or a fine up to Rs 50,000 or both, an increase from the current one-year jail or Rs 20,000 punishment. Repeat offenders can be imprisoned for up to three years.
This landmark decision accounts for celebration and rejoicing for the “future” leaders, decision-makers, and custodians of the nation.
Till date, India’s Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 allowed children under the age of 14 to work in “non-hazardous industries” including some agricultural work. Not only this, the amendment comes in contravention of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act which states that all children between the age of 6 and 14 must attend school.
The long awaited verdict has finally seen the light of day to reach out to the youngest citizens of the country who were in the clutches of bonded labour. The long struggles of activists, support groups and organizations trying to make the government realise the gravity of the existing situation has finally opened way to something that was probably unthinkable in the past. The immoral and illegitimate practice that was royally violating the rights of the nation’s most valuable asset will finally be shunned and hopefully in a permanent way.
As I still continue to think about some specific angles of this proposal, which brands child labour as a cognizable offence at this level, it doesn’t seem enough to me. With some never ending and ever staying social stigmas that our society is tormented with, the complete elimination of child labour is a challenge in itself. It’s a harsh reality to begin with, taking away the basic right of a child to live, play and grow by engaging him or her in activities that are not even meant for them in the first place. The very effortlessness in letting them occupied with odd jobs for a meagre monetary aid in conditions that are not been accounted for their existence, forget safety, is sheer injustice.
Considering the recent case in the city of Hyderabad, where a minor domestic help attempted suicide by jumping off the 2nd floor flat to flee her oppressing employers, brings yet another shuddering reality. It should be noted that the employer was a software engineer and his wife a school teacher. I want to accentuate the sad veracity about being educated and yet ignorant in this case; because no form of education can ever edify such practices.
We need to understand that children are not a part of these activities by choice. It’s their poverty stricken familial background that has compelled them to be a part of India’s distressed labour force depriving them of their innocent childhood. Eradicating child labour will visibly need such decisions from the policy makers of the country, but at the same time it will seek efforts from committed and serious citizens in every neighbourhood.
With a serious intent to get rid of this social evil, one hopes that this rule of law doesn’t simply remain in paper lying languid amidst many other pending laws that remain neglected. Our country has many such regulations that have the power to change the existing face of the society but unfortunately with a terrible track record of implementation.
Child labour is a languished image of poverty. The immediate change of this proposal into a law by the Parliament (with implementation) will certainly bring optimistic transformation in the long run. Then perhaps those non-rhyming lines of freedom visualized by Gurudev will in some minimal way turn into an ideal reality. Let the owners of the country’s future dream…and let there be no limits to their imagination.