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Why The Loopholes In The Child Labour Bill Are Good News For The Middle Class Indian

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By Pranav Prakash:

A few months ago, I had the distinct pleasure of conversing with one of the country’s greatest economists, who in characteristic modesty and in a manner far less emphatic than the issue deserved, recounted a speech by a famous political scientist from MIT who had visited our capital over a dozen politically iridescent summers ago.

For the purpose of the narrative, I will paraphrase his speech and include a few additional details, in an attempt to provide a more vivid representation of the idea.

The thought experiment that he had proposed to the audience in attendance was simple. He began by recounting how, in every one of his trips to the subcontinent, he would get to meet, and often closely interact with, several of his ‘middle-class’ acquaintances who worked and lived supposedly modest lives here. A typical visit to the homes of these hospitable colleagues of his would make for fascinating, but also to no small measure – paradoxical, tales that he could recount to his friends and fellow academics back in the States. For instance, he would travel by rickshaw and alight in front of a humble suburban home that, in and of itself, would suggest a lifestyle and an economic status that would resonate with a sizeable fraction of the country. He would, with great reverence, be invited into the house and would make his way past a maid sweeping the halls and into the dining room. In the midst of exchanging pleasantries with his hosts, a cook would step in and serve him lunch, prepared just moments before. As they continued dining, the doorbell would ring and the locale’s ironman would bring in a bag of freshly pressed clothes for the week, as the maid toiled away simultaneously washing the used ones. On occasions, he would even be present for a run-in with a servant who would appear twice a week just to clean the toilets.

Whenever these stories were shared with those abroad, especially to someone who had never set foot in India before, their reactions would typically range from curiosity to disbelief; it was, quite unsurprisingly, difficult for a person to fathom that the bulk of the middle class in a developing country such as ours could enjoy the luxury and lavishness that only their affluent counterparts, even in the most advanced economies, could hope to.

Now, as the audience, here’s what you have to do. Imagine you were transported back some sixty years ago to when the government of the day, was still creating policies for a fledgling democracy. Your task is to devise a method that would give the middle class a taste of the opulence that was just described and which could rival the greatest economies of the West. If you could suggest just one policy directive to ensure that this happened in the years to follow, what would it be ?

The answer is chilling. In order to guarantee that the middle class could continue to live a life of convenience, all you would have to do is to systematically ensure that a majority of the country’s population was denied education and hence, would continue to live under the shackles of a certain type of occupation, generation after generation.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2016 which has just been passed in the Parliament seems to have been drafted with the frightening intention to keep education a prerogative of the middle class. Despite its progressive rectitude of making the employment of children below 14 years an offence and increasing the penalties and jail terms for offenders, it has created a loophole the size of Uttar Pradesh by allowing children to be employed in ‘family enterprises’. In fact, the probable lack of state capacity to prevent the perpetuation of child labour under the guise of family enterprises could only be surpassed by the sheer dearth of state will to prevent this exploitation, as evinced by the amendment.

One would have to look no further than one’s immediate neighbourhood to find the, often  unknowing, beneficiaries and victims of this systemic and vicious cycle of vocational entrapment that has sustained for decades. The Right to Education Act now faces an uphill battle against this provision of the Child Labour Amendment Bill, as families from already disadvantaged sections of society would now, legally, be able to send their children to work in order to supplement their income, leaving practically very little hope for the kids to grow out of these professions as they grow up. The lifestyle of the middle class, however, carries a covenant of comfort for another generation.

Featured image source: Christine Boose/ FlickR
Banner image source: Made By Survivors/ FlickR
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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