Delhi may boast of world-class chain of food outlets like Mc Donald’s, Pizza Hut and Dominoes, available in every nook and corner of the city, but what really appeals to the taste buds of a typical Delhite is a plate of golgappa. This savoury is undoubtedly preferred over the burger any day. Roam around Delhi streets and you will find umpteen numbers of Agarwal, Bikaner and Mishthaan Sweet Houses selling Indian delicacies like chaat. All these sweet houses that have made our life in the capital spicy and worthwhile.
However, there is a twist in this tale. Can these international chains ever employ a ten-year-old as a cook-cum-dishwasher? NO! But an Aggarwal Sweet House can. Especially this sweet house on MB road in South Delhi. This shop boasts of a whole work force comprising of kids.
The kid who caught my eye, and I assure you that without knowing him, you would have really missed out on a real warrior. Let me introduce you to kid Pradip Mandal. All of ten years, he stands whole day in front of a kadai and occasional breaks come only when heaps of dishes get accumulated to be washed by him.
I didn’t realize the trauma this kid would be undergoing unless I spoke to him.
I suggest, you read on and too, like me, find out. It is painful to see the harsh reality behind the massive publicity campaigns carried out by the Government at various levels on child rights and prevention of their exploitation. Reality hits you hard in the face when you realize that the rosy picture painted by the Government barely exists in the world today..
VP: Will you talk to me?
VP: I am from an online newspaper. We will publish it in our newspaper.
Kid: Ok… But please get permission from Sahab first. (Hinting towards his employer)
(His employer was laughing heartily when I enquired if I could interview the kid. His exact words were “yeh toh abhi Bihar se aaya hai iska kya interview loge?” it was clear by the employer’s reaction that he was not willing to let me interview the boy. He was very petrified of the fact that I could actually frame him under a case of child labour. However, with much efforts I convinced him that this was not my motive (I doubt it now, though).
VP: So what is your name?
Kid: Pradip Mandal
VP: What is your age?
VP: Can we talk there? (Hinting towards a place quite away from his employer)
(Employer obviously frowning but kid escorted me happily)
VP: So what is your age? (He was not looking 15.)
VP: But you don’t look like 15.
Pradip: No, I am 15 only.
(The boy was clearly lying about his age, he was definitely much younger. However, he knew that if he disclosed his right age, he may be rendered jobless by his employer. And to think of the Government providing rehabilitation and education to the child labourers, has anybody ever seen it? I have not).
VP: Your employer said you are new
Pradip: No.I came here two months back.
VP: From Bihar?
Pradip: No I left Bihar three months back.
VP: Where you lived in Bihar?
VP: what is it?
Pradip: Its my village.
VP: Oh good. So it’s been three months in Delhi?
Pradip: Yes. One month I worked at a ‘chai ka thela’
Pradip: At Chandni Chowk. My chacha has a thela there, I helped him. Then he sent me here.
VP: So do you like Delhi?
Pradip: Yes, a lot.
VP: Don’t you miss your village?
Pradip: Madamji, food is what I get here. I have spent days with empty stomach back home. So did my parents and other siblings.
VP: You have siblings, too?
Pradip: Yes, 5 of them.
VP: What do they do?
Pradip: Nobody is together anymore. I am the youngest. All work somewhere. Some in Delhi, some in Bihar.
VP: None of you ever went to school?
Pradip: No. My parents didn’t send me. I requested them to not send me here but they were right. I would have died back home, of hunger.
VP: How much do you earn?
Pradip: Rs. 1000 per month.
VP: Just Rs.1000?
Pradip: Madam, it is a lot. Sahab gives me food and clothes also.
VP: Don’t you think you deserve more? (Revolutionary in me rising)
Pradip: No madamji. He is like God to us.
(Poor child does not even know what he deserves)
VP: You live here alone?
Pradip: Yes.I sleep in this shop only.
VP: How many hours do you have to work?
Pradip: The shop closes at around 12 at night.
VP: Yes, but when does your work begin?
Pradip: I have to wake up by 6 in the morning.
Before I could ask him any more questions his employer came and sternly commanded him to get back to work. He went back. While his employer kept telling me how helpless this child was when he gave him work and how studies can’t help him, I kept wondering how to get this man booked against Child Labour Act for exploiting this poor child (and many others) in the name of providing him assistance…