The rise of Chottu

When I was a kid, I was a fan of ‘Vividh Bharati‘. This radio station transmits its programs from Mumbai. It is under ‘Prasar Bharti’. Every day, from 8:30 pm to 8:45 pm, they used to broadcast a 12-15 minute drama called ‘Jhalki‘ just before the ‘Samachar Sandhya (evening news).’

“Chottu” was one of those ‘Jhalki’ which I’d never forget. Chottu means ‘little one’ in English. Jhalki means ‘a glimpse’ literally, but it stands for ‘a small drama on radio’.

“I do not have any problem with this name”, said the protagonist on the radio, “I hate what it stand for.” He meant child labor. Child labor in India is very big problem. Indians, both as a society and as a government are indifferent to this problem though they seem to worry about it a lot. A new law has been passed recently banning all forms of child-labor. Quite interestingly, one of the contributor in forming this law is an economist who wrote in New York Times titled “The Poor Need Child Labour” (November 29, 1994). Where he admitted to having had a 13-year-old work in his home. (And who also favoured the decontrolling of fuel prices — to tackle the price rise, no less. And perhaps to help child labour, too?)

If we consider, according to this law, what constitute child labor then almost all of us had done child-labor at some time or other. I am a farmer son. Though my father never took me to fields at the expense of school (unlike most of us farmer’s children) but I never had my Sundays and holidays spared. I, along with my brothers, had to work in fields. We considered it daily routine. The idea of labor, in this sense, was not that developed in us that time.

This Jhalki was about a kid named Chottu who met the protagonist of this jhalki in train selling peanuts. Everyone was calling him by the name of Chottu (the little one) without bothering anything else about him. He was reduced to a Chottu. In India, If you are a child and on the street selling things (a sight on Indian roads as common as the-great-spit of North India, no pun intended), Chottu is what you are supposed to be called.

Any public-spirited Indian will tell you how ugly this problem is. However, everyone is convinced that problem is way to complicated to be solved by some law only. True!

Well, how many Chottu do you know? I have seen many. The kid who brings lunches to my office. The kid who sells chai outside the office. The paratha-maker. The corn seller. The one who is delivering newspaper. How many of those you have employed? Its not a crime if you ask me to give someone job in need. Do they have other options? I don’t think so. But should We, whose lives are much easier, not be concerned about their wellbeing? The point is how many children We have exploited for our benefits? At whose cost, we are letting it happen? Shouldn’t it the responsibility of a self-respecting society to take care of its children? If no, then it not a responsibility of these chottu to take care of society, to consider our well being when they have the capabilities of hurting us for their benefits as we are doing now.

But what’d you do after taking away labor from Chottu? Have you consider a home for them before striping them from their footpath? Have you helped building a school for them before throwing them out of their current job? Do you have any alternatives? Or it is just fashionable to bar child-labor? Or you do  not like the idea that this rising tiger-economy can have child labor? Lets make them someone else but Chottu.

Rather, it creates more problem than solving it. US barred the carpet import from Bangladesh on the ground that these guys use child labour. What happened, there was a increase in the child-prostitutions. Everyone needs to eat. Hunger is much worse than slavery.  Do you have any solutions how to solve this problem? I dont!

Let me tell you some stories of Chottu. No it’d be worthless. These stories have been told all along. Almost all of them say the same thing (Or maybe my heart can not feel what it should feel). There is no escape from it till economy is not revived and the education is expanded at much higher pace. It’s the public sympathy which is need-of-time to confront this problem.

Can We have  a child-labor free India? At the most optimistic level, I can say, “May be if and only if all of Indian feel that yes, it is a problem, else this thing will continue as it is.” Great things happen slowly in nature. It is to be solved by evolution not by revolution.

Till, we can ask them what is their name and call them by that. One must allow the basic dignity to a person one seems to care about.

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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