He has four degrees but works as a garbage collector screamed the headline of a news item. This is the story of a man born on the wrong side of the fence who thought that education could free him of his shackles. So he set down to get educated and acquired a B Com, BA in journalism, MA in Globalisation and Labour, Masters in Social Work and is currently pursuing M Phil at the reputed Tata Institute of Social Sciences. He holds on to Ambedkar’s words: If you study you will grow but as he says people still do not accept him. The burning and frantic desire to learn was kindled when as he says: “I got down into a drain on my first day of work. For days after that, the smell didn’t leave my mind. I walked through water with dead animals. That’s when I decided I had to study and get out of this vicious cycle“. Study he did but nine years later he does what his family has done for ages: scavenging. He got his father’s job in the Municipal Corporation. All his degrees acquired at an incredible price remained futile and useless in his bid to break his birth cycle.
That manual scavenging still exists in our country with over 180 000 manual scavengers as per the sock-economic census is a blot on our society and should make us hang our heads in shame. This in spite of an Act passed in 2013. That it took us 66 years to promulgate an Act banning manual scavenging is a matter or further shame and leaves me speechless. That it does not disturb each one of us leaves me outraged. What kind of freedom have we crafted for ourselves where aberrations exist and society is inured and mute.
This person has more degrees than many of us and is still shackled by his origin. Our heartless society and insensitive rulers use social evils with impunity to further their agendas, but remain unmoved by the reality on the ground. They pass laws amidst much fanfare but never ensure that it is respected. We have laws on child labour, domestic violence, child abuse, rape etc but these often remain on paper, just laws that you can quote in your manifesto and election campaigns and wear on your lapel to look good. And it is not just laws. We have a plethora of programmes and schemes aimed at bettering the plight of the poor but these to only fulfil their covert agendas of lining wily pockets. Poverty makes good business sense when your conscience as gone AWOL.
The poor are peddled dreams one of them being education as a panacea to all evils. Educate your kids and all will be well. We too do just that and even give ourselves a pat in the pack when our kids pass their Boards and register for a degree. But reading the above news item saps the wind from our sails making us wonder whether we are on the right course.
The children in the picture above belong to our Yamuna Centre. Their parents are agricultural landless labourers and in the light of the story no degree can free them.
How can this be? And who is to blame?
Laws are toothless and useless. There seems to be no political will; the administration does not care and civil society remains mute and compassionless.
Where there should be outrage, there is just silence.
And yet I cannot give up. I know that education alone can help these children and others like them change their morrows.
We need to hear stories like these in the hope that someone will HEAR and do something, even if the something is simply to reach out to one underprivileged child and teach her.
We have our share of success stories, of pwhy kids who have broken the vicious cycle of their birth and are blossoming. True they are tiny drops in the ocean but change will happen one child at a time. If you change the life of one child, you have made a difference.