As the car came to a screeching halt at the Def Col red light, a burst of energy appeared on the road. A gang of paltry young boys jumped in front of the impatient, horn honking cars. They smiled widely in the bitter Delhi cold in minimal clothing while I was shivering inside my warm car sans any smile.
One of them knocked at my window and shoved a Sachin Tendulkar book to my face. He had 5 others which were the best sellers in the market. Of course he did not know what was written in those milky pages, only the front cover images spoke to him. I was curious to know if these boys went to school. I asked him if he went to school. He wasn’t too thrilled about the question and asked me not to waste his time.
I noticed the other boys.They were jumping around in their Santa hats. One of them was selling beautiful stone bangles and was trying to convince an over dolled up aunty that it was a steal for her at his prices. They had learnt the trick of the trade. They knew who would buy what as the boy standing outside the other car was trying to sell all sorts of music CDs to a bunch of adolescents who were already singing on top of their voices.
I tore my eyes away from those cars and struck a deal with my boy. I offered to buy his book if he answered my questions. His eyes lighted up and he nodded in agreement. I paid him 150 bucks for my Sachin Tendulkar biography which I was never going to read. I fired away my questions.
He told me that he hardly went to school. He only attended school when he needed the free food which was served during the lunch break.So he could climb the wall, eat and disappear. I shivered this time not because of the cold but the sheer atrocity of what I was hearing.
I interrogated him on how he was able to sell these books if he had no money to eat. He passed on a smirk and started his sentence with, ‘Madam Ji’ which irked me. He revealed that there was a man who was a kind of ‘Don’ of the book supply business for kids like him. He supplied them books and demanded a fixed amount for each book sold. The money they made above it was theirs to enjoy.
They were beaten up if they lost books or did not sell at least 1 book each day. He was cruel but he provided them bread and butter. They could not annoy him. He spoke about the man with a hint of fear and respect. He was some sort of an idol for him. The thought alone was ridiculous but it was his life.
The timer ticked for the last 5 seconds and he turned around automatically. His mind was trained to the 90 seconds clock. He flashed another smile and ran away before I could ask his name.
If we do a rough math then hundreds of thousands of kids suffer the same fate. We are failing as a society to help these children escape this cage of callowness. There are two kinds of kids: One who have a family and the other who don’t and live in orphanages. We need a plan which captures both these groups’ needs and endeavours. If the kids are seen as an extra hand to earn then with education we have to provide them a way to earn that extra cash.
My nonprofit does free counselling sessions for parents of kids like these who need to understand the gravity of the situation. They are holding back an entire generation from doing some good in life. I am not saying they will end up living luxurious lives but they after educating themselves they will take a more informed decision. A decision which will be better than selling books at a traffic light, in 90 seconds.
What we can do:
1. Check if the nearby orphanage is sending its kids to school.
2. Ask your domestic help if she/he is providing education to her/his family
3. Volunteer with some organizations who are striving to bridge the gap.
4. Please donate and adopt one child for her/his education needs only.
The ones who do not fall under these categories will be difficult to track. I am hoping that we will be able to help at least 30% of such children in the near future with all the great work that the nonprofits are doing.
Let us join hands to fight against disparity, poverty and injustice to these kids. India’s future is dependent on these kids. Let’s make this work!