“Every Sunday morning I take a walk around a sugarcane farm near my home. There’s a line of trees surrounding the farm. Each time I jog by this area, I see the same child sitting at the farm’s edge with a small metal cage sitting beside her.”, said Payal , a jury member of World’s Children’s Prize from our Bal Mitra Gram(BMG) in Hinsla, Rajasthan. “The cage, was an extension of her existence, symbolic of her subversion, her destitute, her immure“added Payal.
Payal, who visited Sweden only recently for the event, is gifted with perseverance which has continuously encouraged her to fight for child rights. She was also the second Bal Pradhan of the Bal Panchayat in 2013 , following which she got an opportunity to get engaged in community work through a mechanism which was set up by Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s project BMG.
As the Bal Pradhan of the village she undertook a lot of field activities to empower not only children but also women of her village. She carried out rallies and protests to engage various women’s groups and youth forums of her village. As a child rights advocate she pleads for children to come together and raise their voices against any injustices done to them. “Until and unless children themselves realize that they have some rights, they won’t feel unyoked. A child must have some agency which enables her/him to decide. “added Payal .
Her village Hinsla is a Bal MItra Gram since 2012 .BMG is a village where all the children are free from any form of exploitation and are gong to schools to pursue their elementary education.
The most important and integral part of this concept is the participation of the children themselves as also the relationship of friendship that develops between the community & the children. The idea is to ensure the protection of rights of children through the engagement with and involvement of the villagers, the gram panchayat or the village council and local administration.
As a part of this model, Bal Panchayat is also brought into being. So when Payal became the Bal Pradhan of this Bal Panchayat, she was made aware of her roles and responsibilities by BBA activists. Leadership and decision making were two paramount pillars of this arrangement which were exemplified by her.
Ghunghat Pratha which fosters women to cover their faces with a veil is a tradition which has been deeply embedded culturally. Not only does it exhibit a man’s sheer supremacy over women but also puts on display the century long tradition that helps in perpetuation of the system of patriarchy prevailing in North India. Hinsla was no different form the rest of Rajasthan. Women were veiled and voices were unheard. Child marriage was prevalent too Payal , on her little shoulders, wished to carry the entire weight of this rudimentary school of thought and wanted a change.
She, along with other children of the village, began her protests against the system of child marriage and Ghunghat Pratha. Within a year everyone could see the conditions changing. Women as well as children started coming out and voicing their opinions. People started getting more aware of their rights and duties.. Eventually Hinsla became a child marriage free village. Women too unveiled themselves. This was a victory for Payal.
In 2013 when people from the Swedish council had come to review her work, they were thoroughly impressed and thus, chose her as the jury for World’s children’s prize. She was ecstatic to get the news and was congratulated by each and everyone.
In Sweden she got the opportunity to meet other achievers like herself and got exposed to an environment that benefited her in many ways to continue on the path she had chosen for herself. “Out of everyone else, I was chosen to be the one who goes to pick up the Queen. It made me feel special”, says the 13 years old.
As she returns to Sweden this time, she feels more confident than before. She has a flare in her eyes that is unmatchable. It would be only apt to state that Payal who was an inspiration for the people of her village Hinsla before, has now become an inspiration for the entire world.
It never rains but it pours they say. That's exactly what happened for 10 year-old Ramesh Kumar, and for him the flood of troubles took three long years to recede.
A charming boy with a disarming smile, he was born into a family of bonded labourers who would toil day and night at a brick kiln in Sitamarhi district of Bihar. He landed up in the 'family business' when he was just eight years old.
Carrying bricks was too much for Ramesh's little hands, but had no choice, for months until one day in 2013 when an activist of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) rescued him. The BBA activist brought thedistraught boy to Bal Ashram – a long stay rehabilitation home for rescued child labourers in Jaipur –where he was taken care of and his belief in happiness grew.
At the Ashram, it was like all the misery had vanished away; but little did the boy know what fate had in store.
Eight months later after being rescued, Ramesh went home hoping his parents would let him go to school. They didn't. “My parents beat me up when I insisted on going to school,” he says, cheerful, choosing not to let his thoughts travel back to the tragic days.
“They told me not to even think of it. I would often cry.”
Ramesh was back to square one - slavery. But eventually the kiln had to shut and the family were free.However, out of job and in need of money, Ramesh's father forced him to work at a local restaurant for the monthly 600 rupees. There, the little boy cooked food and washed all the utensils for twelve hours a day,but again only until one decisive day.
That day, Ramesh and his colleagues were thrashed by their 'employer' for a silly mistake. Fed up of the pain and anguish, he took it upon himself to break the bonds of torture, believing he had had enough.
At night he ran away.
He hid behind bushes on the way, and in the dead of the darkness took a journey towards a new dawn. With the little money he had, Ramesh purchased a train ticket to Jaipur and reached Bal Ashram once again.
There, he was welcomed with open arms again and now, many moths later, the boy is cheerful again.
Ramesh has ever since participated in many functions organised in and outside Bal Ashram. Once, he felt elated after entering a huge auditorium for some programme. “It was the first time I went to such a place. I had never even thought there will be something like this,” he said.
“When I go home, I will tell papa what all I saw. Now he will believe me and repent why he didn't send me to school.”
His dream is to be a school teacher one day. Nothing special about it, except when the ambition is of a 13-year-old boy who knows that nothing ever comes easy. In fact, for Ghanshyam Singh, the freedom to be able to have a goal itself is something precious. And there are reasons.
The boy knows what he had lost, almost forever, three years ago, when they dragged him out of school into the darkness of child labour.
The eldest among four siblings, Ghanshyam was the only son of his father, a labourer in a stone quarry inPushkar district of Rajasthan. His father would cut down personal expenses so that his children could go to school.
But then misfortune never comes alone - Ghanshyam's father met with an accident at work. His grandfather told the boy, still basking in the innocent blithe of childhood, that the burden of running the family now lay on his little shoulders.
Then only 11-years-old and a student of class 6, Ghanshyam was forced to work in an eatery where he would start early morning making tea and flatbread. Customers kept him busy during the day and in the evening he would wash the dishes.
All along, Ghanshyam's salary was Rs 7 ($ 0.1) a day.
The misery continued for around two months, the cruel days longer than years, before Gunjal, an activist of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, rescued him. That was the advent of Ghanshyam's new dawn, the first path towards freedom, never having to look back. Gunjal brought the boy to Bal Ashram, BBA's long-term rehabilitation centre in Viratnagar, Jaipur.
Initially, it was difficult for Ghanshyam to crawl out of gloom cast by the torment of child labour. But today, after more than two years of stay at the Ashram, the young lad is shining bright. He has become active and takes part in cultural programmes organised in the rehab home. Just a few months after his arrival in the Ashram, Ghanshyam took part in a march against Child Labor in Assam state.
Now, Ghanshyam is a student of class 7. He secured 61% in the exams.
Once, during a competition to mark the children's day in Don Bosco, Delhi, Ghanshyam danced in front of High Court judges. It was fun watching him swing, dressed up like a Rajasthani girl.
Amid the whirls and twirls, one could feel that the days of misery will never cast their evil shadow again on Ghanshyam.
Imtiyaz comes from a very poor, illiterate family. His father worked at a bangle factory, but his salary was too low to provide for Imtiyaz and his siblings. One day, a man from the village convinced Imtiaz’s mother to send the boy along with him, promising her, he would get education in return for a few hours of work. Though, instead of going to school, Imtiyaz was forced to work for more than 16 hours a day and suffered hardship through his boss. It was only after his rescue through BBA that he finally got access to education and found a caring environment in BBA’s rehabilitation center Bal Ashram.
Here is his own story…
When I worked in the Zari factory in Khanpur, Delhi, I was forced to work long hours and got paid only 50 rupees per week [less than USD 1]. During my work, whenever I made a mistake, my employer beat me up very badly. He also beat me up, when I asked him to let me return to my parents.
One day, the police came to our factory and my employer asked me to pretend to study with his son. But once the police had left, I had to go back to work.
I used to get chapatti [flatbread common in India] and sometimes stale rice to eat. Sometimes I also did not get anything for breakfast.
One day, our factory was raided by the police and activists of Bachpan Bachao Andolan. I was rescued that day together with the other children who had worked at the factory. We were taken to a home in Lajpat Nagar, where we stayed for three months.
Afterwards, I returned to my home in Sitmari. But when BBA found out that I am not going to school regularly, they spoke to my parents to send me to Bal Ashram.
Since then, my life has changed a lot. I started going to school and also became active in various programmes of BBA and Bal Ashram.
I am in class 6 now. My favorite subject is math and I would like to become an engineer later. I also like to sing. Every Friday, I take classical singing lessons. My big role model is Mr. Satyarthi. I hope I can also help child laborers later, like he did.
Devli was born in a family of bonded labourers. Each day, they got up at 3 am and were forced to work for 15-16 hours in the stone quarries of Charkhi Dadri, Haryana, without any pay.
After months of investigation and planning, Bachpan Bachao Andolan managed to free her family along with 112 other bonded labourers in 2004. Devli was seven at the time.
Since then, Devli has grown to be a voice of millions of trafficked and enslaved children. Participating in many public awareness programmes like the South Asian March Against Child Trafficking, she has become a leader herself. After joining school, she was perturbed to see that other girls in her village were still in illiteracy and fought hard to ensure their school enrollment.
A few years back, Devli was selected to represent trafficked bonded child labourers at the launch of ”Class of 2015: Education for All” at the United Nations in New York. She left global leaders speechless when she bravely asked:
“If I as a girl could enroll 15, is it not possible for all the world leaders to enroll all children into schools?”
Here is her own story…
I am Devli. I was born in a stone quarry in Haryana. My parents were also born there. Our entire family worked in the stone quarry as we were bonded labourers. It was only when we were rescued by Bachpan Bachao Andolan that we understood what it means to be free.
I started working at the age of five. I used to break bigger rocks into smaller ones. My sisters and I used to load rocks into trucks along with everyone else. We had never seen a banana or any fruit. When we were first given a banana after being rescued, we ate it without peeling it off. We had never seen paper and didn't know anything beyond the stone quarry and the work there.
After rescue, we were given homes in Jodhpur, our native place. For the first year, I went to Balika Ashram, a centre of BBA in Delhi. I learned to read and write and also received training in how to use computers. Then, I went back to my parents and studied in the school in my village. I also enrolled 15 children into school in my village and have now finished class 8.