By Juby John
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Once the Father of our Nation remarked, “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” The quote well describes the power of youth and the need to raise them in an upright way for any nation. However, the status quo of the children of India is more a matter to pity. At a time when Kailash Satyarthi, the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, was named the joint winner of the Nobel peace prize along with Pakistani Teenager Malala Yousafzai, I thought of highlighting the quandary through which our little saplings go.
What is child labour? Let me blot out every argument, the nay and aye-sayers, for me it is the ‘mother’ of all social evils. At an age when these pupils need to bask themselves under the knowledge of Freedom, they are forced to work in the most inhuman and excruciating conditions. Though inordinate laws and acts are in action to prevent such exploitation, they remain only in paper. One can find these children of lesser God in almost all sectors- agriculture, fireworks units, glass industries, footwear and cloth firms, food joints, transportation and so on. It has been 25 years since the Government of India banned child labour, but the scourge persists. In cities like Nagpur, one can find child labourers working right under the nose of government authorities and in their own projects. Alas! What other illustration does one need to headline the alarming rate of child labour.
However, is this the only form of exploitation? In my country of ethics, laws and justice, are those kids who go to school and are nurtured by parents free? No, we exploit even them. Teachers bar them in the rigid structure of school curriculum, parents bar them in the over heightened aspirations they hold for their lads, we bar them by pressurising them through their whole childhood by dictating what to do and what to restrain from, what to think and what not to think, what to aim for and what to avoid.
Thanks to the Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system which our schools currently employ, a child is made to work a lot – complete a lot of assignments, projects, concentrate on the extra- curricular activities, prepare for n number of tests – all at the same time. Thenceforth, we bind them in an already trodden path. I met some of my school going cousins and was shocked to hear that they spend most of their recess completing assignments.
Parental pressure and aspirations also entangle these beautiful gifts of God. ‘Mera beta toh bade hokar Doctor banega’ (My son will become a doctor when he grows up) represents the narrow and conservative approach that Indian parents take while bringing up their child. Margaret Mead once said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think”.
On one side lies the child who wants to explore the colourful pages books, and on the other hand lies the child who just wants a chance to peep out of it. Huh! Why can’t we Indians provide the freedom which will allow our children to grow up happy as well as successful? No doubt, a paradigm shift in the way we think will change their, as well as our, future for the better. A small version of a poem from the film ‘Udaan’ is here to inspire our youth:
Subah ki kirno ko rokein Jo, Salaakhein hai kahan
Jo khayalon pe pehre daale, woh aankhein hai kahan
Par khulne ki deri hai, parinde ud ke chhoo lenge
Aasman, aasman, aasman
(Where are those bars that can stop morning rays?
Where are those eyes that can guard thoughts?
It’s only the wait of opening up of wings, birds will fly high to touch the sky
The sky, the sky, the sky