By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
November 14 is celebrated as 'Children's Day' in our country to pay homage to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his birth anniversary. He was the first Prime Minister of independent India and can be termed as the architect of modern India. It is due to his innovative ideas that India has made such tremendous progress in science and technology. When the British rulers left the country, India was backward and did not have any industry worth the me. But now our country is almost at par with the developed tions of the world and has gained due respect, which it deserves. Pandit Nehru sowed the seeds of progress more than sixty five years back and turally the country owes him a debt of gratitude.
Pandit Nehru loved children and was very close to them. He was "Chacha Nehru" to them and they had a kind of emotiol bond with him. Hence his date to birth is celebrated as children's day all over the country. This day is meant exclusively for them and various organizations and schools organize diverse functions for their entertainment. turally all these functions with accompanying diversities are hugely enjoyed by the children.
Unfortutely, though the day is dedicated to the children, yet there are some for whom "Children's Day" means absolutely nothing and they are not even aware that there is a day, which is meant for them. They are the deprived children of God, who have to struggle throughout the day to earn a little amount of money for their respective families as well as for themselves. They have not been fortute enough to step into the portal of a school. That is why the celebration of 'Children's Day' does not impress them in the least, since for them it is a jumble of words without any meaning or significance. They know only the dark side of life and the cruelty of human race. From early childhood they realize the harsh truth that they have to work hard to survive in this cruel world.
The number of child labourers in the whole world is staggering and it has become a burning issue, to be discussed by various organizations as well as the governments of different countries. Apparently the number of child workers around the world is mind-boggling.
It has been stated that the largest number of child labourers are in Asia, followed by Africa and Latin America. There are also huge number of child workers in Kenya, Senegal, Bangladesh, Nigeria, India, Turkey, Pakistan and other developing countries. A significant number of child labourers happen to be below the age of 10 years, though the actual figure is not known. In our own country as well as in our state, we come across many child-workers engaged in various capacities. It is a fact that rural children work harder than their urban counterparts. They do various types of work at home and also have to work in the fields, since agriculture is the main occupation in villages. Consequently they are subject to harsh climate, long working hours, heavy loads and toxic chemicals.
In many developing countries including India, many children work in textile, carpet, footwear, glass and fire work industries. They are also engaged in gemstone polishing, salt, lime stone and mosaic chip quarrying industries. Many of these industries are highly hazardous for the health and well-being of the children—but the employers and the society seem to be least concerned about that. These little children are deprived of their rights as children. Some of them are working in tea plantations, where they pick tea for a long time and as a result suffer from bruises and frequent fever due to long working hours in humidity.
In our own state we see little children engaged in various occupations to earn a meagre amount of money for themselves as well as to maintain their respective families in a hand to mouth existence. Some little children have to bear the entire responsibility of providing food and other necessities to their parents as well as to the whole family. In garages, tea stalls, construction sites and in various industries and business houses, child workers below the age of 14 can be seen in large numbers. In the garages the dirtiest part of the job is relegated to the little workers, since the adult mechanics deem it to be below their dignity to do such work. In road side stalls they work as dish washers, waiters and water carriers. In every occupation they are given the hardest part of the job. Children working in the construction sites carry more loads on their heads than their emaciated bodies can bear. Often they go without food due to lack of money— and the bouts of starvation take their toll in the long run.
Many of these little children, both boys and girls, are serving as domestic servants in many of these private homes, working themselves to the bone for bare survival. The employers are rarely kind to them and they make these unfortute children work much harder than their feeble bodies can bear. These kids take over all the household chores, from cooking to washing to any other back-breaking job—and after doing all that they get nothing but ill-treatment as their reward. They are abused and beaten black and blue, for any little lapse, by many of their employers. They are at the beck and call of the pampered, over-fed children of the employers. They cannot raise their voices due to fear and the employers take full advantage of their poverty and helplessness.
In fact, most of the employers prefer little children for petty and hard menial work, since their wages are minimum and they cannot protest against the injustice meted out to them, though sometimes they do run away from the tyranny, which is like jumping from frying pan into fire. These children have to bear all sorts of physical and mental torture and for the girls the situation is much worse, since they often fall prey to the lecherous advances of many a lascivious employers. These small children go through a kind of living death, while the society stand by and watch indifferently.
It is very sad really, that even when we are in the 21st century and the country is making such enormous scientific and technological progress, the majority of our children are half-starved, half-clad and illiterate. At an age when they should have played games with their friends, got immersed in the world of famous five, created by Enid Blyton or in the adventures of Harry Potter, as depicted by Elizabeth Rowling, these unhappy children are toiling hard for a bowl of coarse rice, to survive in this unkind world of ours and staring into a dark future. So many of them turn into loafers, ruffians, pick pockets, petty thieves or drug peddlers in sheer frustration. Some of them turn into beggars, chasing people for a few coins. Society condemns them and most people avoid them like plague. But very few of us have ever tried to have a glimpse into their unexplored minds. They live in total darkness— physical and mental—their minds are full of unfulfilled dreams.
Children all over the world have the same desires, same mischievousness and the same innocence. But many of them are burdened by every kind of "have nots". No wonder, they lose their innocence before time—their childhood passes them by without being noticed—and they are compelled to tell lies, cheat, steal and get immersed in all sorts of vices and consequently turn into anti-socials. That is their revenge on a cruel society.
For a tion to be progressive, the children must be educated, since they are our future. The hope of the country rests on them. Some day in future one of them might be called to lead the tion. For that education is of prime importance. Books are the windows, through which they can see the light of this vast world of ours. But the windows are closed to them and they behave like the "prisoners of the cave", as Plato envisaged, who cannot distinguish between shadow and the reality. Only education can dispel their mental darkness and stir up their intelligence, so that they may be able to discrimite between fake and genuine. It was the "Father of the tion", who once said that the "essence of education lies in drawing out the best in you". But till now the Mahatma's dream has not been turned into reality.
India has two distinct classes of people—rich and poor. There is a vast chasm between these two classes. The rich forms only a small minority and the children of these families are born with gold spoons in their mouths. They go to the best of schools and with parental influence mage to hold their positions in society, though they may be lacking in intelligence and talent. But a country cannot prosper with a handful of educated and affluent people. For the all-round development of a tion we must take into account the majority, most of whom languish is utter darkness. They do not lack talent—but lack resources and influential back ground, which have become indispensable for success in this country of ours. You may have an abundance of talents; but without the necessary props, you may not be able to achieve the grand success, which you so richly deserve. Because of the lack of opportunity many unknown geniuses may have been lost in oblivion.
So much has been said—so much has been written about compulsory education and the problem of the child labour—but so far they have remained singularly unproductive. Child labour cannot be wished away and "literacy for all" cannot be whistled in by the wave of a magic wand. The recent project of "Sarba Siksha" is a laudable effort on the part of the government to educate all the children of the country. But for the success of the scheme, the parents must be made aware of the value and importance of education. They have to understand that they must not ruin the future of their children by keeping them illiterate. It is also very true that we cannot blame the parents for sending their children to earn money and lead a life of drudgery. They are poor people struggling for survival and with the best of intention they are uble to send their children to school, as they need every rupee earned by the child. And if the child works elsewhere, the parents at least have one less mouth to feed. You can't possibly impart education to a hungry child nor can you teach him morality. Physical needs often supersede mental aspiration since they are too strong to ignore.
These deprived children do not even know that there is a day, which is exclusively meant for them. Hence the festivities of the "Children's Day" elude them, and it is like any other depressing day for them. The children's day will be meaningful only if all the children belonging to the affluent as well as to the economically deprived section, are able to participate in the celebrations and enjoy the day.