By Sarah Jacob
Selvan* was two years old when his parents separated. One of the youngest in the family, he had always been taken care of by his elder siblings and mother. His father used to rear ducks. As his parents parted ways, his father took four children with him, warning his mother never to meet them.
Life went on as usual until poverty had burdened Selvan’s father. He saw the only option of selling his children into bonded labour as the way out. His sons were working with different owners, all malnourished and weak, all for an advance of Rs 2000. Their work hours ranged from 10-12 hours – rearing ducks and toiling hard.
Five years went on – Selvan’s mother still couldn’t stop thinking about her children – a mother’s heart as it is. She went on a search and found her husband had died. She didn’t stop. Since the family had been into rearing ducks, she searched for her sons in duck farms in and around Krishnagiri, Vellore and other districts in Tamil Nadu.
There, she met her son – he had grown tall, but his hands had grown weak. She could count his ribs. He could barely stand from all the exhaustion. Her heart ached. If it were for her, she would have taken good care of him and her other children. But, the ‘owner’ did not let him off. The feudal mindset of owning people had still not worn off.
Selvan’s mother was adamant. She would try every way possible to rescue her little one. She approached Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD), a grassroots organisation that worked with the government in rescuing and rehabilitating bonded labourers. FSD then contacted the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) and assisted him in rescuing Selvan and his relative over a period of two days. The official also enrolled the boys in a residential school on the same day, not wanting them to miss out on fulfilling their dreams. Education, he knew, was the key to jumping on to the bandwagon of dreams.
Selvan’s mother’s joy knew no bounds. She now regrets she couldn’t be with her son in his crucial formative years. Other sons found their way back home. Childhood once lost is hard to regain. At an age where Selvan should have learnt alphabets in Tamil and played around, he was taking care of ducks. He was working hard and being abused every now and then. He had no freedom to play, eat or sleep. All he was asked to do was obey his ‘owner’.
Do you remember fearing someone as a child? It would be a horrendous feeling. Now, imagine a child scared of someone and constantly living in that fear. Gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it? No child must live in fear. In India, there are at least 14 million children in bonded labour – working in deplorable conditions when they should have been studying and playing. That’s at least 11% of our population.
Selvan is now 11 years old, starting life at school that he wasn’t sure would be possible. This Children’s Day, let’s be reminded of these child bonded labourers and do our bit to help them live their lives in freedom. It is possible! Like our first Prime Minister Pandit, Jawaharlal Nehru said, “The children of today will make the India of tomorrow. The way we bring them up will determine the future of the country.” What is the future of our country when our children toil and suffer? A question to ponder on.
* Name changed to protect the identity