Vikas Sansthan is the culmination of my childhood and adolescent fantasy and worry to be able to do something concrete for the cause of children.
- Dilip Sevarthi
In 1991 when I was 21, I visited Firozabad on way to a village where my brother’ in-laws live. While passing through the city by bus I saw glass factories on both sides of the road. I saw that children, bare bodied, aged 8-10 years were scurrying to pass on molten glass to the elderly workers for further work upon it. This wasn’t isolated spectacle. At many places similar plight of children was visible. At that time about 1000 factories were operative, where 25 percent labour was child labour aged 8-14 years. Having seen this, I felt a deep urge to meet some of these children. I then went to Sitaram factory at Makkhanpur near Shikohabad where I saw that dozens of children were drawing out burning hot glass rods from the furnace. From this later on several beautiful and useful decorative items were made.
I talked to the children and fathomed the sadness, sorrow and helplessness of these children which built up tension in me. These children told me how each one of them was living is assort of trap or blind alley with no way out. Fathers of many of these children were drunkards and gamblers. Uneducated and very poor. Their mothers remain at home and take it as devoid of honour to work out side home for money. Many children were not admitted to the schools. Many who got admitted soon became school dropouts as they had no money to support education. Being forced to work as child labour they contracted harmful diseases. Many children were condmned to work as child labour to facilitate repaying capacity of their fathers who were under huge debts. I therefore resolved to launch a serious campaign to eliminate the practice of child labour and to restore their rights of life and development to them under the name of Movement Against Child Slavery and Idea has come to form the Vikas Sansthan.
Vikas Sansthan is the culmination of my childhood and adolescent fantasy and worry to be able to do something concrete for the cause of children. Looking at the child walking un-childlike towards a glass bangle or carpet factory and brick kiln industry one may truly feel that I representing the morning of life, moves into the inhuman trap to meet with the sun-set of my life, for at the factory, his very existence will be factored into a series of lost opportunities, perpetual malnutrition, hazardous conditions leading to deadly occupational diseases. But, is the child converting his life’s sun-rise into an uncherished sun-set all too soon. Aren’t we responsible for letting innumerable children lose their childhood irretrievably for no fault of theirs? When lakhs of children are pushed into work at a tender age by depriving them of their fundamental rights like education, childhood becomes an unwanted phase of life or a necessary evil – if we think from the child’ point of view. This is what I used to fantasize and worry about.
Depriving a man of his rights is unethical, illegal and an uncivilized behaviour. Yet here, if the man is grown up the fact of his rights being deprived may be understood as a human situation which is partially his own making as his’ informed consent ‘to his plight may be taken as granted. But in the case of forcing a child into child labour and thereby depriving him of his rights is surely without his ‘informed consent’. Therefore, this is a graver kind of unethicalness, illegality and uncivilized behaviour, more so as it is perpetrated on him by his own benefactors, who seek refuge under the pretext of poverty. But what pretext is there for the state, the society and civil society if the problem still persists- very close to the time of realizing Millennium Development Goals.
I realized that in order to save childhood, the familial benefactors of childhood have to be sensitized and economically strengthened. Resting on the prevalent barbs Bachpan Bachao or Save Childhood is possible only through Garibi Hatao or Remove Poverty. Both these aims have to be simultaneously pursued. Till such time as the family elders are capable of earning more than what they earned by subjecting children to labour they will have no rationale to free children from the so-called bondage of child labour. The child may not be sent away to a factory, the latter will, with the connivance of the family elders comfortably housed in home. And the child will be vulnerable to deprivation of his rights any way, bereft of his schooling, which is counted as his right.
The right to compulsory and free elementary education cannot be grounded unless the family elders are free from crushing poverty and feel the compulsion to send the child to school, whereby they are assured that the child’s formative years are well taken care of by the school system supported by accountable government.
To give a concrete and sustainable shape to the concern to save and promote childhood it was felt by me that a formal organization is required to be set up.
There were obstacles on my way but I was fortunate in overcoming them each time I found a tough situation. To start with I was appalled by the sight of about 60 thousand children between 6 and 14 years of age, working as child labour in the glass factories , between 6 and 14 years of age. They did not go to primary schools. They were as if condemned to listen to abusive language of their masters. They were wasting their life for 5 to 15 Rupees a day. it was 1991 when i, a young post- graduate, had seen for myself the plight of these children started a movement against child slavery and started holding meetings with adult labourers for their awakening to overthrow the exploitative system. I faced the very first obstacle of not being instantly successful in taking across my message to the community. I made a clarion call for eradication of child slavery and later on brought into my old friends of my student life to this movement.My heart went for the plight of child labour. I nurtured deep anguish mixed with anger in my heart at the condition of child labour. I felt the obstacle –how to relate my experiences to others. To overcome this situation, I took to writing in the news -papers. I started writing in newspapers for the awakening of the public on the theme of removing the scourge that child labour is on the face of society.
It was at this juncture that I took to translating ideas into action and took a leap from writing and speaking to soiling my hands in action and thereby removing an obstacle in starting a meaningful action that can better solve a problem.
I opened two schools one after another with the help from my friends. I opened one school at Navada village in Makkhanpur and the other at village Bajhera Khurud village. These schools were set up exclusively for the children liberated from child labour. I had taken monetary help from his friends to set up these schools. Thus these schools were started and the number of children swelled up by and by, but in beginning, only 20 or 30 children joined this school. I got the moral support of Bonded Labour Liberation Front but no money. At last the school opened by me were handed over to Vikas Sansthan, a voluntary organization which was registered as a society of which I was the Chairperson of that.
Then I began to organize the people to the best of my efforts and started four sided activities with the idea of child slavery. The first was to awaken the guardians of child labourers and other was to create among the children attraction towards education, the third was to observe Dharana and Corner Meetings at the gates of Factory owners and started awakening rallies among the guardians with various competitions among Meetings for Public instruction and foot Marches etc. were swiftly arranged. The third was to make a great protest against District Administration, Labour Department and Indian Govt. and observed Dharna, Gherao at the offices of District Magistrate, and Labour Department for the abolition of child labour.
The fourth was to move the intellectuals at meetings and to inform them about the exploitation of their children and asked them to make efforts for their freedom along with the press Media was fully utilized.
Let me relate the conditions of child labour prevailing in Firozabad glass industry sector. There were no facilities at the work stations of any factory as per the rules and regulations of Factory’s Act-1948. As a result of that the labourers have to face number of problems. Due to inhumane working conditions around 90% labourers fell prey of tuberculosis, asthma and other lung diseases. In respect of 9-14 hours of work, labourers usually get the payment which remains less than the minimum wages. The district officials including the district magistrate, labour commissioners, ministers, lawyers, journalist, local leaders, academicians etc. remain tight lipped on the issue of child labour. Nobody would speak against the evil practice of child labour which can be found in rampant in rural and urban areas of Firozabad. Due to poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and ignorance, the practice of child labour is rising high day by day. I was so disturbed by seeing the pathetic and inhuman conditions of child labourers working in the factories. I started a movement against child labour and child slavery and started holding meetings among the adult labourers for their awakening about their exploitation. initially started this campaign alone but later he involved the like-minded people in the campaign to make it a success.
This was not enough for me to give a shape to this campaign by holding the rallies, open meetings by involving various civil citizens, parents, religious clerics etc. to let them pay the attention of the growing problems and miserable conditions of child labour in the district. In each meeting I strongly emphasized on the Child Labour Prohibition Act-1986 and various sections i.e. 39, 41, 19, 24 etc. of the Indian Constitution to make the people aware of the legal provisions punishable if they practice the child labour.
Meanwhile in December 1996, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India ordered in case (M.C. Mehta vs. Tamil Nadu Government) even after this decision, Firozabad administration was not active and it did not take any action. Then I started my fast unto death at the office of the District Magistrate on 18th Feb., 1997 and this information was given to all the departments that neither the government nor the administration is doing anything in accordance with the Judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and until the Judgement of the court is put into action, I shall go on fast unto death. Meanwhile, on December 1996 the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India ordered in case (M.C. Mehta vs. Tamil Nadu Government) that the children should be at once removed from dangerous works and where such children are found working, then 20 thousand rupees per child be penalized from factory owners and 5 thousand per head from government in order to make a “child fund” in which such money should be deposited. This should be spent on the education of children and an atmosphere for their education should be created. Even after this decision, Firozabad administration was not active and it did not take any action. I thought that the judgement of the apex court should be implemented by Firozabad district authorities so that the conditions of child labourers could improve.
On 18th February, 1997 thousands of children, men and women seated with me on the stage for fast after even lodging him with garlands and assured him of full co-operation. No person from the administration came. All of a sudden in the night of 19th Feb. a fatal attack was made on me and other peaceful agitators including guardians of child labourers in which was badly injured. This attack was made by the Police at the instance of Mr. N.K. Paliwal, the then A.D.M. of Firozabad. In this case National Human Rights Commission in its inquiry found that my case, senior officers of the District like Mr. B.K. Gupta, the District Magistrate, C.M.O. and Superintendent of Police were involved. After this a fabricated criminal case against me, as a matter of revenge, was registered under Sections 147, 332, 323, 352, 504 of the Indian criminal law etc. by the district authorities who were displeased by my activities seeking justice for children. As a consequence of this I was imprisoned for a week and later on released on bail with the help of my well-wishers.
As soon as I came out of the Jail I was welcome with flowers and garlands by the parents of child labourers, children and workers of other social organization who promised me their full cooperation. My moral was raised higher to lead forward the fight against child slavery and other labourers. On 10th March, I came to Firozabad called upon the adult laborers to completely close down the factories of Firozabad and decided to observe agitation again at the office of the District Magistrate. At that time there was no safety of my life except the help of God. Since, on the one side there was industrial class, factory owners, and on the other side the whole of district administration was united to show me down.
Upon the call made by me all the factories of Firozabad remained closed on 10th March. The market was also partly closed and thousands of child laborers, their guardians and adult laborers gathered around the office of the district magistrate, in spite of the great force of district posted by the District Magistrate, the public down the barricading near the office. In the end, I advised the people in my address to keep restrain and a memorandum in the name of the Prime Minister was given.