Institute of National Impotence

Conversation at a cafeteria on our beautiful campus.

Me (to boy bussing tables):  ‘How old are you?’

Him: ‘Eighteen’

Me: ‘Really?’

Him: ‘Really’

Me: ‘You don’t look eighteen’

Him: Shrug

Me: ‘How long have you been working?’

Him: ‘Two years’

Me: ‘So you were sixteen when you started working?’

Him: ‘   ‘

A few minutes later at my table.

Him: ‘Sir, I am really eighteen’

Me: ‘I believe you, but shouldn’t you be in school?’

Him: ‘I really want to, I will as soon as I quit this place in May’

Me: ‘Where are you from?’

Him: ‘Vellore’

Me:’Why are you here and not in school there?’

Him: ‘Didn’t have money for school’

Me: ‘Doesn’t the government pay for school?’

Him: ‘Yes, but I still need money for notebooks and stuff’

Me: ‘How much do you need?’

Him: ‘Rs. 2000 for a year’

Me: ‘For the whole year?’

Him: ‘Yes, sir, the whole year’

Me: ‘How old are you really?’

Him: ‘Seventeen, sir, and I have been working for only two years’

Me: ‘When did you stop school?’

Him: ‘After class 9’

Me: ‘Brothers and sisters?’

Him: ‘One elder brother, one elder sister, one younger brother.  Only my sister has studied more than me’, anticipating my next question

Me: ‘How much longer are you going to work here?’

Him: ‘I told you I am leaving in May. I want to go back to school’

Me: ‘I teach here’

Him: ‘Can I get your phone number?’

Me: ‘Yes’

Him: ‘See my English is good’, showing me my name on his phone.

Me: ‘Yes, it’s good; when do you finish work tonight?’

Him: ‘At 7’

Me: ‘And you started at …’

Him: ‘9’

Me: ‘Breaks?’

Him: ‘Half an hour at 11 and half an hour at 2, but they want me to stay here till 2 a.m.  Some of my friends stay here till then’

Me: ‘So you will get paid more then, since you will work more?’

Him: ‘No, sir, the pay will be the same’

Me: ‘You better get back to work or they might give you trouble’

Him: ‘I don’t really care, I am leaving soon anyway ‘

Me: ‘Take care’

Him: ‘I did well at school; the best in the family’

Me: ‘How well?’

Him: ‘You know, 35 marks to pass, I got 40 or 45’.

Me: ‘What would you like to be when you finish studying?’

Him: ‘I would like to work at Hero-Honda company’

Me: ‘What would you like to do there? Be a mechanic?’, probably betraying my own prejudice.

Him (irritably):  ‘No, I want to be a manager’

A glimpse of what one might see around here everyday.  On the campus of this ‘Institute of National Importance’, we see children working in all kinds of places: various shops, cafeterias, construction sites and households and I am sure the situation is much worse in the city at large.  Most of the time, we choose to look away simply because we are busy and there are just too many such issues.  But, child labour is a bit too much to bear. Maybe because I am a parent myself.  Or maybe because children are defenseless, although I must say that this kid has a lot of streetsmarts, presumably from having to fend for himself in a big, unfriendly city.  He was so smooth that at several instants I thought he might be taking me for a ride, a feeling that I haven’t been able to completely shake off yet.

For what it’s worth, here is the Indian Embassy’s take on child labour:

While child labor is a complex problem that is basically rooted in poverty, there is unwavering commitment by the Government and the people of India to combat it.

Maybe the government is doing something; they do have some rehabilitation schemes and provide food and shelter for migrant children, many of whom come from the north and northeast.  But, to say that the people of India show ‘unwavering commitment’ to combating child labour is a bit of a joke.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Apathy, chennai, Child Labour, Education, Idiots, India

4 Comments on “Institute of National Impotence”

  1. Sivaram Says:

    I for one feel it is ok for a child to be working as long as the kid is ok with it (You could always say the kid does not have a choice).

    Talking about child labour is fine. The noon meal schemes at school’s too is fine. But who is going to feed them at night? We cant wish away child labour unless we have some foundation laid to ensure that these poor kids are taken care all the time.

    Not only that we are unable to provide a guarantee that
    a) a parent would not harass the kid for money
    b) about the quality of education which would help these kids come out of poverty
    c) a job would be available if and when they complete their studies.
    Such being the case, the kid would learn the tricks of the trade and would have started its vocational training without a formal education even though he/she is forced to work at that age.

    • deshvaasi Says:

      illaida, can’t agree with what you are saying. ‘As long as the kid is ok with it?’ Since when did we decide that kids know what’s best for them? Then, why have parents or guardians? May as well turn them loose and ask them to take care of themselves. There is a reason for minimum age to vote, to get married etc., no?

      To make it more graphic, there are plenty of child SEX workers (more like slaves), who don’t know any better. Is that okay because they are probably making some money and think it is okay?

      As for your points a), b), and c), no one can guarantee any of these things. I don’t know if these contribute significantly to child labour, but even assuming that they do, I don’t see why that means we should condone child labour. How do bad parents, bad education, and bad social structure lead to children in the workforce being acceptable?

      • Sivaram Says:

        When abject poverty runs in the family, what would the parent or the child do. Is education the more important thing or survival? The argument is under the conditions in which the Government functions. Either the parents have to be in a position to take care. Or the govt should be such that it provides a certain amount of basic necessities to the poor such as food, health and educational security. Unless these things are there, is survival more important or your other worldy requiremnts. Till such time these issues are resolved this is a necessary evil. I do not for once endorse it but tell me what is the solution? NGO’s are available but they are not able to meet with much success. Do we or the govt have the wherewithal to do something? We may have the resources but there is no will (me included).

  2. shivku Says:

    A quick google of this particular issue turned up some encouraging hits – Children labor is illegal in India
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6034335.stm .

    though I have no idea if this law has any teeth – Time will tell.

    On the but side of it, the instances of easy-money-in-return-for-your-life temptations are so widespread in the cities that while they do support the folks who migrate to the cities in the short term, they also quickly suck them dry. The above law is toothless in the cities – businesses just tap into this massive and disruptive divide between the have and the have-nots.

    We would need to begin at the beginning – the villages. But that’s for another day.


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