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Children Of Migrant Workers Deserve Better, And These Young Professionals Want To Help

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In my recent visit to Bangalore, I went to meet slum dwellers near Marathhalli, in the Mahadevpura Constituency, who are mainly construction workers, domestic workers, and rag pickers hailing from districts of Nadia, Murshidabad of West Bengal. According to the 2011 Census report, Karnataka’s migrant population was 2.5 crore which is a humongous figure for any state. Being predominantly a slum area, it is home to approximately 10,000 migrant workers with no proper arrangement of residence, sanitation, water supply, or electricity. Making a livelihood is a nightmare for these labourers, but one need in particular remains a distant dream—education for their children.

As they have migrated from West Bengal, most of their kids had their primary education in Bengali-medium schools under the West Bengal government. Therefore, these kids face difficulty in getting accustomed to Kannada. As a result, they feel repulsed by these new Kannada-medium schools as they know nothing about the basics of Kannada and they are gradually joining the league of school drop-outs. Moreover, for parents, the existing government schools, being so far from their residence, are of no use. This is for two reasons—one, they always fear their children will face physical harm, abuse, and even kidnapping on their way to school because they are migrants and ‘outsiders’; and two, the language barrier. The children have habit of speaking in their mother tongue (Bengali), they do not have a command over Kannada, which is required to enter the mainstream education system of Karnataka.

Migrant labourers remain neck-deep in poverty without any social security with episodic engagement of their children in rag-picking work, which takes away the interest to get education from both parents and children. So spending a whole day going to school isn’t a priority. It is an undeniable fact that in families where economic conditions are the worst, one head is equal to one means of earning.

Migration And Child Labour: A Reality Check

The issue of migrant labour is yet to be officially recognized by the Government of India as it has not ratified the International Labour Organization Convention 097 (C097), concerning Migration Employment. It is a shame that India is the founder member of the International Labour Organization but ironically as a nation we do not have any provision to address the plight of migrant labours.

Whereas on Child labour, even after India’s ratification of the International Labour Organization Convention 138 and 182 on Child labour, the children of the slum continue to work as rag-pickers, and garbage cleaning workers. It shows the disheartening and sad picture of our countrymen who are compelled to leave their home due to economic limitations and suffer without an end in sight.  Despite the law, this unending hardship continues under pin-drop silence from the public.

A Ray Of Hope

Since January 2018, young professionals of the city from different areas of work like IT sector and fields like teaching healthcare have begun lending an unconditional helping hand to the slum population. Pother Dabi, a progressive youth organization within city of Bangalore, is carrying out a collective effort to engage with these 10,000 Bengali migrant workers. This organization is not an NGO, a Trust, nor a CSR initiative of any corporate company.  The aim behind the name remains very interesting and significant as “Pother Dabi” is the name of a famous bestselling Bengali novel of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya, which he wrote in 1926. This novel, which was banned by the British Raj, narrates the story of a revolutionary who, hardened by his struggles and always on the run from the authorities, directly confronted the oppressive colonial rule. The message of the novel provides the prototype for these young professionals to make a platform and to take a stand for a cause.

The volunteers of Pother Dabi belong to the Bengali community, and can communicate with the migrant population in Marathhalli. They have taken this initiative with a motive to stand by the oppressed, safeguarding their basic rights, and fulfilling needs like education for their children. The wholesome effort is to bring children (who have episodic engagement as child labour) back into fold of education. Pother Dabi’s primary activity includes these professionals providing the children classes on English and Mathematics during weekends. Though they feel these efforts aren’t sufficient to make these children enter into mainstream education system but reactivating their interest in studies remains the immediate priority.

The above mentioned effort also reminds me of the steps taken by the government of Kerala for its own 25 lakh-strong migrant population. It has provided health insurance to millions of migrant workers with free medical service, along with ensuring them minimum wage. The government decided to publish “Hamari Malayalam”, a textbook to teach migrant labourers Malayalam, the predominant language of the state.

Safety, social security, and education for the migrant population remains a definite task of the state government. A society of individuals or groups with compassion, and feelings of fraternity towards migrant workers is undoubtedly a welcome gesture, but at the same in a democracy the elected representative and the government has a bigger responsibility to serve the needy and marginalized section of society be it a native or a migrant population. The inclusive participation of Bengali residents or anyone from city the of Bangalore to empower slum dwellers should be encouraged by all and the government of Karnataka too.

I hope these migrant workers from West Bengal in city of Bangalore get the facilities which they need to lead a decent life.

Featured image for representation only. Photo by Abhinav Saha/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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