The staff members of her school in Pai village call her ‘Dr Kaali’. Surprised when her headmistress ‘ma’am’ told her that she too could be a doctor once she grew up, she has been addressed as ‘Dr Kaali’ since then.
A class two student, Kaali is the eldest among her three siblings. Her father has been ill for a long time. Her mother, Hanna Bai, seems physically weak and works in the marginal-sized land that the family owns.
Kaali lives in an environment where the ‘ownership’ of her past, present and future is not shared by her parents. According to her mother, Kaali left on her own with the grown-up children of her village to work in a cotton factory in Ahemdabaad. Hanna Bai was informed – “Other children are going, so I also want to go.”
And so, Kaali left. For three months, she was out of school – away from her parents and siblings.
When Kaali was asked if she left on her own for the ‘labour job’ in the cotton factory in Ahemdabaad, she said, “No, my elder cousin brother took me with him.”
The school staff started putting pressure on the community leaders to bring back ‘Dr Kaali’. Pratap ji, an active member of the community, started making phone calls to the elders of the village, who were earning their livelihood in Ahemdabaad, to trace the child and send her back. Her brother was finally contacted, and they were both sent back to Pai.
Kaali returned to school after three months. In the meantime, she had earned ₹3000. When asked by school teachers where the money was put to use, she said – “My mother bought a kandora (a silver waist band) for herself.”
Hanna Bai doesn’t exactly remember the amount her daughter brought back with her. When asked about how the amount was used, she says that it all got used up in getting treatments for her siblings in private hospitals.
According to Sapna S. Dhave, the head teacher of the Government Primary School in Pai, parents secretly send their children to such places. Pratap ji has been having a tough time tracking the children of his village, who leave for labour jobs to the nearby districts of Udaipur. Sharing his experience, he tells us that – “Only when I threaten these parents that I will take them to the police, and file a case against them of promoting child labour, do they tell us that their children are engaged in such a job at such a place.”
When asked why parents would send their children to do such jobs, he said that extreme poverty, alcoholism and the ‘lazy attitude’ of parents are the main reasons for children being sent far away to perform such jobs – or in certain cases, some children leave on their own, in hope of a ‘better life’.
His team has rescued 20 children from his community in a span of three months who were engaged in such jobs. For his team, the biggest challenge is non-cooperation from the parents. Asked if the community ever stood up in unity against this issue, he said – “Three years ago, for once, we all stood up together when the news of the deaths of some of our children working in a chemical factory in Gujarat reached us. At that time, the police also helped us by seizing an entire bus, full of children, being sent to Ahemdabaad.”
Kaali tells us that a group of almost 100 children was made to live in the same room. Pratap ji adds that these children are made to see ‘blue films’, so that their ‘interest doesn’t dwindle’. They are made to work early mornings and late nights – so that any raids or checks by the police in the daytime can be avoided.
When asked if she would want to go back, Kaali strongly says ‘no’. Asked if she had liked the job, she said ‘no’. Kaali was fortunate enough to be able to come back to her village, and join her school as ‘Dr Kaali’. But what about those 99 children who are still perishing?