After school the headmaster and the deputy minister of labour are waiting for me so that we can go together to the meeting place. When we get there several dozen people are waiting. The meeting is taking place in front of the police station in Jalda, several kilometres from our house.
Mr Kundu (the deputy minister) takes the floor to explain why we are there. "For several years we have been running a programme to combat child labour. We have been studying the problems parents encounter in nourishing your offspring. We have noticed that if very young children work it is mainly to help their families. But we have also noticed that they work because they have quit school. Now, schooling is obligatory, and no one is exempt from it. The prime minister has again reminded us of that in her speech."...
"This girl is like you! You could be her parents, and today she is here to tell you her story. Rekha, please come and introduce yourself."
I am impressed by the crowd below the platform. All eyes are fixed on me. I have a lump in my throat, and I’m afraid of stammering. However, as soon as I go up to the microphone the nervousness disappears and my delivery is clear.
"My name is Rekha Kalindi, and I come from the village of Bararola. Ever since I was very little I’ve worked to help my parents, who are very poor. There are six children in the family. On the days when we have nothing to eat we go to bed with empty stomachs and hope that the next day will be better. When my parents decided that I ought to be married I refused."...
I continue, "But let me tell you what happened to my older sister. For five years she tried to have a baby. Every time she gave birth she nearly died. Her cries, her pains, were heart-rending. She escaped death several times but not the sorrow of losing four babies. My sister did not choose to marry, but my parents chose for her... But today I am here to tell you that it is possible to refuse a marriage if you don’t want it. It is possible to find another way that allows you to go to school so that you can really help your parents, have a life less hard than theirs and give your children better living conditions than the ones you had. It is an ambitious vision that is within the reach of each of you. Thank you for listening to me."
I had hardly finished my last sentence when the crowd began to applaud.
|Rekha Kalindi with Mouhssine Ennaimi; Penguin; Rs 299.|