Soon after the Covid-19 pandemic hit India in March 2020, the imposition of a nationwide lockdown forced millions of desperate migrant workers, deprived of income or security, to return their home across the country.

However, their problems did not end even after they returned from the city to the village. After coming to the village, many of them remained unemployed. They were not getting any kind of work due to the lockdown. Most of these were agricultural labourers but due to the summer season, they were not getting work even in the fields.

The Kishangarh block of Ajmer district of Rajasthan was also badly affected. But here the problem was double. Being a mining-affected area, there is also a significant number of child labourers here. Thousands of children work here in marble finishing units and in the mining sector.

Due to the lockdown, the need for children in mines and related activities ended. Due to this, hundreds of children sat at home. The families which used to survive on the wages of these children started facing financial crisis. Apart from mining, all these families were involved in the power loom and hotel industries, which had also shut down.

During this crisis, the Grameen Mahila Vikas Sansthan (GMVS) an NGO working in Kishangarh and other three districts started helping the families of such children. The institute made a list of families of 500 child labourers and distributed food items to them during the entire lockdown.

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Shankar Rawat

GMVS founder Shankar Rawat says, “Lockdown is a time we will never forget. After the first lockdown, when the workers returned to their homes, many organizations distributed food items to different sections of the society, but after a few days we realized that the children in this area were working in mines, factories, Neither the government had thought about them nor any organization took care of them.”

Shankar further explains, “After this the GMVS made a list of the families of child labourers. Since our institute has already been working on child labour, it did not cause much trouble in making the list. After this, five teams of the institute started delivering ration to the selected 500 families.”

Another member of the institute, Deepak said that in this ration kit, 15 days’ ration was given according to each family, which on average had five members each. The package included flour, pulses, rice, sugar, spices and vegetables. Ration was distributed for three months during the first lockdown and for three consecutive months in the second lockdown. In this way, ration was delivered to every family about ten times in six months.

Interestingly, the founder of the GMVS, Shankar Singh Rawat himself had been a child labourer. As a child, he worked in a power loom factory. Shankar explains, “At that time my age was 11-12 years. I worked in this power loom 7 km from Kishangarh from 1990 to 1995”.

Shankar further says “I got a job on the weaving machine in the power loom. In this, the work of filling the reel of thread was to be done to sew clothes. Two thousand reels had to be filled in an 8-hour shift and a day’s wage of Rs.14.50 was given. I used to work in two shifts to get more money. After learning the work, I became a supervisor in the fifth year, then my wages became 10 thousand rupees per month”.

COVID Response Watch LogoChild labour is a very old problem in ​​Ajmer district. In the areas of Kekri, Srinagar, Bhinai, Data, Nolakha , Muhami and Kishangarh children used to break stones from the mines. Apart from this, a large number of children also worked in hotels and factories.

Shankar Rawat says that more than 100 children from these areas have been rescued from child labour in the last 5 years. The GMVS has so far pulled out more than 20,000 children from the vicious cycle of child labour.

According to Shankar, “In the year 2000, a project came from the Ministry of Labour, Government of India to bring child labourers out of that vicious circle and integrate them into mainstream society. Through this project, labour schools were opened for such children. 20 such schools were opened in Ajmer district. There were 50 children in a school. In this project the children working as child labourers were kept in the school with hostel facility. They received 300 rupees a month as stipend, dress and lunch”.

The first school was opened in Buwani village in 2000. The next year, three more schools in Nolakha, Kishangarh and Muhami were opened. In these schools, there were a total of 200 children, who worked in the mines. Students were taught up to the fifth standard. The government ran this project till 2012. In this way more than 650 children came out of child labour in these 12 years.

Shankar says that apart from this project, the GMVS also launched a campaign against child labour using its own resources and has so far rescued more than 20,000 children from child labour. Now all the children go to school in the panchayats where the project operated.

At the same time, Deepak says that during the Covid period, along with distribution of ration, the institute distributed goods and cash worth Rs 30 lakh among the needy. This amount was collected from the factory owners and donors of the area. During the first lockdown 1500 were given assistance and during the second lockdown, help was provided to about 10,000 families.

This article has been supported by the Work: No Child’s Business (WNCB)

Madhav Sharma is a journalist based in Jaipur, Rajasthan


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