Often in the hustle of life, we tend to overlook our surroundings. What comes to your mind when I utter the words: railway station? They say, every journey holds a story, they say, every train that passes by has something to say, with so many people inside, so many thoughts running just as fast the rail on tracks.
So many tales, in a train that runs by…
For you, it’s just your usual work hours, or an occasional vacation to break the monotone of life. But, have you ever observed and not just seen, the little feet running on the platforms, sometimes selling, sometimes begging, but lips breaking into a smile, at a kind word and a glance?
Yes, the kids who have made a home at the railway station, found solace in each other. Have you ever looked into their eyes, the clear-as-ocean, true to the heart gaze, which pierces your conscience and makes you realise how fortunate you are? No, I guess. Neither had I. But they do exist exist. To tell the tale of a world unknown to many of us.True, it is not easy, living like that, but they have stories, that will horrify you at first, but then melt your heart.
Every kid here has a story to tell. So, we tried to bring a few, from the Asansol Junction, the second largest city of West Bengal. Stories of a few kids, who have nothing but a smile on their face, and mischief in their eyes, when they speak. They are just the little ones who do not understand the differences created by the society, and are simply little and pure souls who have nothing remotely tarnished in their spirits.
Meet Jaba, the tiny extrovert wonder who lives on the Platform 7. Her parents live at the Gomo station but little Jaba prefers staying here as she is too troubled by the daily fights that happen between her parents.
“They fight all the time. My father also regularly beats my mother. My mother won’t leave him. So I left the both of them and ran away,” she says.
Every child has the right to a healthy childhood full of happiness, curiosity, and education. And let’s just say that Jaba’s antics of the jovial nature came in handy, when she spotted an NGO, which was conducting self-awareness programme at the station. The kid straight up went to them and asked if she could be a part of their classes, Muktdhara post her work. And thus began her journey with Prajak, a CRY supported project. Jaba is an exemplary student merely because of the fact that she is curious and so willing to learn. She loves to sing and dance and it warms hearts to see such a rare bird finally getting her childhood back.
When asked about it, she chirps, “I am getting school-ready. I will probably stop going to the station altogether once I get into school. But I’m not sure. I need the money to survive but studying is so much better than doing the same thing every day! I love learning new things – that’s what excites me, not picking rags.”
But Jaba is not the only one. Meet Pawan and Bablu, Jaba’s friends who she met in Muktdhara. Aged twelve and eleven respectively, they are from a family of four brothers in Asansol. The two ran away for they had a father who was wasting in alcohol. Their eldest brother got married and moved to Odisha, and the second one is living with their grandmother. That left the two of them. The sole breadwinner of the family was their mother, and after she met with an accident, the burden came on these two little souls. They started picking up waste plastic bottles from the station, brought home to their mother who eventually sold them.
Out of the two, Bablu had his brush with studies at his grandmother, but then left the same and came back home. However, he never forgot the joy of learning that he derived there.
“There’s a school near my house. But it’s a private school and quite costly. I don’t like collecting plastic bottles at the station, neither do I like sweeping the trains. I only sweep this one train that comes every Thursday,” Bablu told when he was rescued.
Even though NGO enrolled the two brothers in Government schools, they had to leave and come back to work after a few days, for there was no one to earn. But call it destiny, team Prajak was looking for a cook for the kids at that very moment. Bablu and Pawan’s mother was hired in the capacity, and they were back to school from streets. Today, they both are learning and studying. Bablu has shine in his eyes as he will be going to new school after passing from fifth grade.
He speaks exuberantly, “Thank God for the bhaiya who spotted us working at the station. Else I would have never been able to play with my friends in the evenings. It’s the best part of my day!”
And guess the man who keeps these kids together, makes sure that he can spot them and give them the right to education and a good life, not the one on streets, picking up rags and begging for a two-square meal; Bijoy Das. Bijoy is an outreach worker at Prajak- A CRY supported project, and he himself was one of the kids who were rescued eight years ago from Asansol station itself. He was only twelve. Bijoy had an alcoholic father and was in school till class VI. However, owing to his father’s nature, soon his mother left with his younger brother. Eventually, he was asked to lend a hand in financial matters and it was then that he ran away. Bijoy was even into substance abuse, at the tender age of twelve, when found.
Mohua Chatterjee, Head of Programmes, Eastern Region for CRY, says, “There are over 10 million child labourers in India in the age group of 5-14 years (Census 2011). This is our reality – a slice of which can be seen at our railway stations, roadside dhabas, tea stalls, and sometimes, in our homes. This is a story that needs to change today. If you take a close look at the three lives that have either changed or are on the verge of changing, you will realise that it is education that plays the role of the game-changer. Hence, a major chunk of CRY’s efforts to stop child labour include ensure access and availability to schools with quality education. Change is possible and with the right kind of efforts in the right direction, change is happening. We just need more and more people to join the movement and become part of the change to hasten it.”
Children have a right to childhood, happiness, and smiles that ring through the skies. Let’s join hands and make sure that more and more kids get what they deserve. Just an initiative by us, and CRY will make sure that not a tear escapes kids, anymore.
The World Against Child Labour Day(June 12), is just a reminder for us to come together and look at the reality that is child labour, and maybe, make a difference.
To make a difference, donate to CRY: http://www.bit.ly/StopChildLabour
All images courtesy of CRY