A Teenage Rag-picker Father Wishes Better Life for his Girl-child

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Bhaskar, a renowned economist, and social scientist, talks about floating child labourers, the rag-pickers, their trail and tribulations. He moves his gaze to Shankargarh, 50kms from Allahabad. He discovers a new meaning of Azadi. At Unchahar, near the NTPC plant, he finds a group of women sitting in the open, in the scorching heat of summer. A possessed woman, a medium of the ghost, answers questions. The strange tradition continues to this day. We are introducing a weekly column, Random Jottings, beginning this week, wherein the columnist will show us a different face of the society that we are hardly aware of, exclusively in Different Truths.

I am used to wandering around to look at people not very much welcome to the civil and elite society – the society excluding unwelcome cross sections is generally self-claimed. My observation is not about the self-projected ones but about those who do not project them but are projected in a way not much acceptable to people like me. One such case is the rag-pickers, who substitute both the vultures in extinction, and the local administration is virtually invisible, other than wrong reasons.

 

The self-projected individuals and families discard wastes materials on the road without caring for the consequences. The garbage becomes the space for economic occupation for the rag pickers, who age between five years and twenty years of both sexes. Some of these children are born local, some migrated with their parents years back from poverty belt in Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.

One such child I met was Banskar, aged around 15, who had migrated from Rewa, in MP, around ten years back. He lives in Minto Park with his parents, engaged in rag picking, often abused by the people on suspicion. He is married! He has a girl-child and he says he will not allow his child to be engaged in this job. Though he himself started working as a rag picker with his father – both he and his father are illiterate. He is now self-employed and says, “I dig a well daily to drink daily.” In our language, it is “Living from hand to mouth.”

There are others from the same areas, who are engaged in rag-picking in spite of being abused inside homes and outside. Many of them take recourse to drinks. Gambling is often inherited to get rid of the daily drudgery. No wonder society reproduces surplus labourers for us!

A Different Azadi

I was perusing today, to the best of my linguistic ability, one research report on social science that involved the stone-breakers of Shankargarh area in the district of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, the distance of the area, from the city of Allahabad, is around 50km. It was time-taking as it was written in that happens to be my third language. At one stage of my curious reading, I found the report saying the true meaning of ‘Azadi’ (freedom) for the underprivileged labourers, many of them were migrants from the border state Madhya Pradesh. They were asked about their awareness about 15th August – the day of India’s independence. I am afraid if you would it, those who could respond (generally the elite thinks that the subaltern cannot speak) reported that their ‘Azadi’ is the day they got ‘paid work’ of stone-breaking (though the research was on discovering bonded labour). The elite social scientists are concerned to get them emancipated, while they are set free (Azad) when paid for their hard labour.

 

Incredible India!

I am a little bit hesitant to jot down what follows. I had been moving in a village within three kilometers radius of NTPC plant, at Unchahar. While on a vehicle, during summer, on a kutcha road (dirt track), in an obscure village, I suddenly observed a group of women, of all ages, sitting in the open, in scorching heat. Two women were murmuring something with one apparently asking something and the other violently jerking her head. One of my research team members cautioned me not to laugh before I could do the wrong thing – so I decided to observe from a close distance. Ultimately, what I was made to understand was that a ghost had entered into the body of the respondent woman (medium). After some time, I garnered the courage to ask one woman standing nearby about the presence of the respondent woman’s husband, if any. I was informed that her husband had been away, working in a distant brick kiln. After around an hour, we left the place. By that time puja-path was over and the ghost was probably evicted too!

I was informed that this practice had been continuing there and in the adjoining areas for many years. Incredible village India!

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Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder, an eminent economist, is the Professor of at GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He was the Professor and Head of the Centre for Development Studies, Central University of Bihar, Patna. He has published nine books, 69 research papers, 32 chapters,15 review articles and was invited to lectures at premier institutes and universities over 50 times. He has 85 papers published in various seminars and conferences.
He also worked in research projects for Planning Commission (India), World Bank, ICSSR (GoI), NTPC, etc. A meritorious student, Bhaskar was the Visiting Scholar in MSH, Paris under Indo-French Cultural Exchange Programme. He loves speed, football and radical ideology.
Prof. Bhaskar Majumder
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