By Anwesha Dhar:Â
Ujjawal is like any other guy of his age. All set to graduate this year, armed with an engineering degree, Ujjawal loves to live and relive every moment of his life to the fullest. A sweet zest of capturing these moments as well brought him to the world of photography. He chose his camera, however, to not only freeze these moments but to invest in them with a powerful message-a message to fight child labour. To do so, he has taken up the mission to ride his bike from Kolkata to Mumbai, talking to people, bringing to the forefront the stifled voices of the multitudes who succumbed to this heinous act. Here is his journey-
May 27th 2014-Ujjawal started his journey alongside Siddharth. The road forward was unchartered, full of obstacles and riddled with unexpected twists and turns. But nothing was going to stop him now!
Later that evening, he met Suman at Kolaghat. Unlike his friends, Suman is still fighting the odds, managing to attend school and leading by example.
Soon he met Ganesh, whose life presented the ways Suman’s life could/can go wrong any day. Ganesh works with a truck driver and remains a stranger to the joys of school life. On being asked why not employ someone else, Ganesh’s employer says, “iske jitna mehnat wala koi nai hoga. Dekho abhi muh mein gutka khaake kitna kaam karta hai” (No one will work as hard as him. Look how he chews on his tobacco and works hard!)
Mayurbanj in Odisha painted a brighter picture for Ujjawal. He met Abhinav and Abhimanyu. Ujjawal writes, “Seeing children from humble backgrounds having the very visible urge to go to school and realise their dreams keeps my hopes alive that things can change…are changing in little ways… While Abhimanyu wants to become a doctor, Abhinav wants to become a teacher.”
While still traversing Odisha, Ujjawal encountered an incident that left him thinking. In the Balam district of the state, he spotted some children trying to pluck mangoes and wished to click their picture. He was however greeted with sticks by their mothers! He writes, “Luckily, (before anything happened) a Hindi speaking person came over and translated that the women were of the thought that I was there to kidnap children. I explained how I was cycling from Kolkata to Mumbai, and showed them previous pictures of travel and children from my camera. Seeing this, they got very excited and happy and called their kids back, who all had been until now standing far away, and told them to pose for pictures with their mangoes for me.”
He also met people from Patang, a CRY supported organisation in the state working for youth engagement! One of their programs called Sampark is specially targeted for school drop-outs where they’re taught basic leadership and moral skills. 18 children from the program have been re-enrolled into schools. He writes, “I visited a village called Chhamunda for field visit. Being an area having Maoists in the past, there is lack of teachers willing to teach there. This has led to skewed ratio of teacher to student where 4 teachers cater to 256 students. Patang filed complaints and 2 new teachers were thus recruited, of which 1 is joining soon.” The visit left him filled with hope and renewed vigour. “Amidst rights violation and child labour incidences that I am witnessing, such work by organisations shows the silver lining, and that things can change for the better may be gradually and slowly, but come.”
In the road ahead, Sajid and Aman posed a picture of how much parental support counts in a child’s life. Even though they were helping their father at his shop, both the kids attend school and their father firmly believes that education is a powerful tool. He recounted how he was not able to educate himself, but considers it important and a responsibility to teach his children. All his five daughters and two sons are educated/ pursuing education. Ujjawal writes, “Though that we found the two children at work, also seeing a parent aware of not making them help him at his work at the cost of the larger education are stories of hope as well.”
Palli Alok Pathagar (PAP), a CRY project Partner in Odisha has done credible work in rescuing many child labourers in this area where migration is a major issue. Ujjawal recounts the tale of young Saudamini Mahanand from Banmal in this context. He writes, “Her parents migrated from their village and she was thus forced to start working in brick kiln despite her reluctance to drop out of her school. However, PAP intervened and public hearing in OCPCR and NCPCR was made. As a result, 11 RCC (regional care centres) in Orissa were set up for the first time due to this case, especially for migration issue in this region and high rate of drop-outs. Under these RCCs, hostels are provided to children while their parents are away on seasonal migration to other areas. Saudamini now studies in class 6, and wants to work in Anganwadi.”
He also met Ganesh Tiwari, a dhaba owner who stands as a model to those who employ children in there dhabas. The wall proudly reads “There are no child labourers here.”
Navadhar Samajik evam Sanskrutik Vikas Manch, a CRY supported project currently works in 10 slums in Raipur city. The organisation has conducted various programs like awareness program on health issues and child labour through street plays. “What I was moved by was the fact that, in spite of having to work, or schools which are not good enough, most of the children have a dream in the eyes. The children whose photos I clicked, very interestingly, shared their desire of becoming policeman and doctor.”
Finally, Ujjawal rode his way to Nagpur where he was warmly greeted by Saddle Up Guys, who expressed their full support to him!
Such experiences, poignant stories and kitty full of memories later, Ujjawal continued to ride though the dusty roads and completed his journey. If you are passionate about child rights and wish to bring about a lasting change in the lives of children,Â tell us what you would like to do.