Ever wondered what it would be like if you were asked to stay away from your mobile phone or your computer for an entire day? It seems like I’m putting forward the idea of some scary reality show, only that it sounds exceedingly absurd, if not entirely impossible. Both you and I are aware of that. Even as I type this piece, there are children for whom thoughts of owning a computer or something as basic as reading a newspaper might appear as nothing more than fleeting visions of Utopia. On one hand, when we strive hard to stay in a Never Never Land of sorts where we don’t want to grow old, there are children who are brutally thrust into the world of responsibility and struggle for survival at the tender ages of six, seven, or even five. It is difficult to accept the reality of the fact that two completely different worlds can coexist within a radius of just a few miles probably – both joined by the impossibility of surviving in each other’s world.
According to Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), India ranks first when it comes to number of children out of school. Out of the 1.21 billion people in India, over 50% are under the age of 25 (Census Report: 2011). Children below the age of six account to about 13.6% of the demography of our country. Out of these, only a handful is as privileged as us. The rest, if we are courageous enough to accept the truth, fight day and night to make both ends meet – not just for themselves, but for their entire families. When we begin a day worrying about hairstyles and computer games, a vast percentage of children are compelled to jump into the cruel world, embracing the struggle to live. In this survival melee, more often than not, their voices are rendered silent. Come to think about it, how many of us pay more attention to the child who picks up rags in our locality than the guy who broke our hearts! We spend days and nights weeping over the guy or the girl who’s jilted us, analysing the causes and effects, and in the end come up with nothing substantial. It seems unreal that there are others, who spend those same days and nights wondering how many rags they need to pick up in order to earn a meal.
There are children who have desires burning in their hearts – to become doctors, engineers, or in some cases, just to be able to study. Take, for example, the children of the people who used to earn a living by picking up tea leaves somewhere in some tea estate in North Bengal, perhaps one which still lies locked up.
Manu Lama Yulmo, a girl who lives in the Ambari Tea Estate of Jalpaiguri, West Bengal, is barely a teenager. Her parents lost their jobs when the tea garden was declared shut in December 2010. Since then, Manu’s life has been an incessant struggle. Her dream to study and prosper in life is juxtaposed against the cruel reality of her poverty and her bitter struggle for survival. There is Sumit Oraon, fifteen years old, who aspires to become an engineer. However, when Fate engineered his life, he hardly had the means to combat it. Kathalguri Tea Estate, the one where his parents worked, lies abandoned for several years now. Emaciated and poverty-stricken, Sumit still hopes on. After school and during holidays, he breaks stones at the nearby river, with the hope that the money that he earns by doing so would alleviate the wounds that his family has to deal with every day. There is hardly any place for scepticism in his bright dreams. His face is aglow with the hope of a better future, perhaps of the time when he is an engineer with a decent monthly salary.
I too, have had my share of heartbreaks and depressions, and a terrible life, or so it seemed, till a few days back. On facing the actual meaning of the phrase ‘difficult life’ in all its starkness, the cosy comfort of my depression vanished into thin air. All of us have our struggles. Just that when for some of us it is getting over a boyfriend or being able to complete an assignment on time, for many others it is to obtain their basic right – the right to survive. Our sorrows are the same, only separated by a vertiginous level.
I hope someday there will actually be a bridge between the two worlds. I hope that someday the hypothesis of equality of all will transform into the truth. I hope someday every child all over the country will have the privilege to dream and the opportunity to see their dreams metamorphose into reality. I hope, someday, the reality show that I was talking about in the beginning, will be turned inside out.