As an old saying in Hindi goes, "Sabka maalik ek hai. (Everyone's god is but one.)" And what if that maalik decides to come on earth? It might sound like an exaggeration, but for 83,000 innocent children, he was the maalik on this planet.
Taking up a social cause is in itself noble, but most people lack the ability to maintain and uphold this nobility. Kailash Satyarthi is a rare exception. Only a few knew him before he became a Nobel laureate. Indeed, one acquires fame when he becomes the master of his struggle.
A child is considered God's gift, one meant to be nurtured with love and affection. But our world demonstrates a different reality today. These gifts are treated as toys that anybody can play with and exploit any time. Child labour is one of the worst such forms of exploitation.
According to the latest estimate of the International labour Organisation (ILO), the 2001 national census estimates the number of working children at 12.6 million (out of a total of 210 million children aged 5-14 years), of whom 5.77 million are classified as "main" workers, and 6.88 million as 'marginal' workers.
This number is only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of children are still working in clandestine corners or under powerful people. They do not have any escape, even though many of them try raising their voice against such injustice. It is said that child labour is a deep-rooted seed sown by poverty. So it can't be eradicated unless the seed is uprooted.
There are some who talk and others who act. Kailash Satyarthi is a doer. He left his lucrative engineering job to became a crusader of child rights and has been doing some fantastic work in a fight that is far from over.
I worked with Satyarthi's NGO, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, as part of their social sensitisation team. During the course, I came face to face with the plight of the less-privileged and realised why it is important to stand up for them.
My first ever rescue operation began when the team received about two girls who were working as domestic help in East Delhi. We reached the spot, along with local police personnel. Shockingly, the girls in both the houses were nowhere to be found. The house-owners denied their existence. Their faces and arguments nearly convinced us that, may be, we were at fault to have reached there with the police. We continued to argue with the house-owners, but to no avail.
In the midst of the arguments, one of the house-owners blurted out that there was a girl, adding that she had left the house and was not their "servant". So, the first raid was unsuccessful. Disappointed, we returned to our office.
Caged and raped - a survivor's tale
I never thought reality could be so gruesome for a child. At Satyarthi's NGO, I realised the impotency of our patriarchal society.
Here I heard Rushita (name changed), who was trafficked in West Bengal, describe how she was made a victim of sexual assault. She came to the city with her uncle in the hope of getting a job. She wouldn't have imagined that her hope would transform into a nightmare. Sold to some men by her uncle, the young girl was kept locked in a room for a year by five men. Here she was repeatedly raped and tortured. The assault became the norm. Rushita resisted, demanded freedom and also tried to escape. But it all went in vain. The extent to which her body was brutalised is too graphic for words.
After one year of continuous torture, she found the opportunity to escape the haunted house of the diabolical creatures. The world outside the house was secure for her. She came to know about Bachpan Bachao Andolan and secretively came to the NGO.
Her words shook me as much as they made me realise the power of determination and will. I felt naïve in the wake of her brave escape.
Sexual violence experienced by women has dented our society, and the sadistic nature of a number of men is breaking the social fabric. According to a UN report, sex trafficking affects 20.9 million people worldwide and 98 per cent of the victims are women and children. India is the epicenter of human trafficking with 100 million victims and 1.2 million child prostitutes.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), about 5.8 per cent of the incidents of sexual violence against women, which were committed by men other than the survivors’ husbands (“others”), were reported to the police.
The barbarity Rushita faced at the hands of her assaulters explained the lust of certain men, who are raised with neligible opportunities for education and have no understanding of the importance of women in society.
Happy, yet hesitant
In another rescue effort, our team found two young girls working as domestic help at a couple's house in Mayur Vihar, New Delhi. When we confronted the house-owners, they verbally abused us and tried to justify their actions by saying that it was the girl's duty to work, and that they were only trying to "help the poor girls by employing them". However, we filed a case against the couple and rescued the girls.
During the process of counselling, the inherent loopholes in our society became clear to me. First, the ignorance of individuals about the laws and rights associated with children. Another issue, and the more important one at hand, is that citizens have a tendency to evade law according to their convenience and yet claim to be "law abiding citizens" of this country.
At the end of this encounter, however, we failed to counsel the children because they were hesitant to open up. Perhaps, the smile on their naïve faces revealed the "kindness" meted out to them by their employers.
My experiences at Bachpan Bachao Andolan taught me that merely sitting on comfortable couches will not improve the plight of the underprivileged children. We have to, as individuals, stand up for the cause. Child labour and human trafficking are a social catastrophe, but the negligence of rights and laws is a greater miscarriage by the society.
I realised the capability of Kailash Satyarthi's organisation to question the morality and humanity of people. Though I was left with many unanswered questions, I got closer to the truth.