My wife Jaya and I went to Dhanbad Junction railway station yesterday at around 6.00 am to see off my son Babai, who was going to Kolkata by New Delhi-Sealdah Rajdhani Express. It being a Sunday morning, there wasn’t any rush at the platform no. 1. Also, this platform was expecting two Rajdhani Express trains, one after another.
There was a little boy, who doesn’t look older than 12 years of age. He was shining shoes of a man there. He asked Babai pointing his dusty shoe. Arrival of the train was declared already when we arrived the station. Yes, the train was running before time! I just remarked that the train was coming, the boy replied that there’s a lot of time as the train will only leave at the scheduled time. The scheduled halt, otherwise, is 5 minutes at Dhanbad station. That boy polished the shoes and asked for putting a pair of extra rubber soles inside. We said OK as the little boy will earn some money. I am against any child labour, but we can’t avoid the hard realities in our country. The train had already arrived and after paying him Rs 80 for shining the shoes and the soles, we went to Babai’s coach. The train left on the scheduled time at 6.28 am.
Jaya and I were walking back towards the exit for car park, the same boy again came to us asking for polishing my shoes. I gave my shoes to him for shining and started chatting with him. He said that his name was Rahul Kumar Ravidas. He studies in 4th standard in Khalsa School at Bank More in Dhanbad. He has four siblings — three sisters and one younger brother, who is just 3 years old. I felt happy when he said that excepting his younger brother, they all go to school. His father is a cobbler. He has a busy schedule. He comes to the station daily at 6.00 am and works until 9.00 am. Then goes back to home to get freshen up and for breakfast. His school starts at 10.20 am. On his return from school, after taking some food, he comes back to the station at around 5.00 pm and works there until 7.30 pm. Then he returns home. He then completes the daily homework and do some studies. The poor child has no time to play! I asked him whether he misses playing games after school hours. He said that his father’s income isn’t adequate for their family and also he needs to work to fund the cost of their education — school fees, books, dress, shoes etc. “Sau-sau rupay lag jaate hai.” (These all cost hundreds of rupees.) He said that he prefers to work hard rather than playing and then getting dropped out of school. He has matured much beyond his little age.
When I asked him whether he had any breakfast he replied that he comes to the station on empty stomach and eats at home when he returns at 9.30 am. He doesn’t want to spend money unnecessarily!! If he feels very hungry then only he eats a plate of kachories at the station on platform no. 2. He said that he earns Rs 100-150 on most of the days. Some days even pass without getting any earning. His best days are when he earns Rs. 200-250.
We were going to a tea shop at the station for our morning tea. I invited him to join us. He gladly followed us. Jaya bought him a packet of cake. He was very happy. He said to me “Sahab, aj to mera din bahut accha hai, subah-subah 250 rupay mil gaye.” (Sir, today’s an excellent day for me, I have earned 250 rupees in the morning itself.) I advised him to study at any cost. “May his efforts shine his future”, I prayed for him.
I liked his innocence, his maturity and his efforts to get educated. Yes, child labour is a curse, a social evil and is illegal, but mere abolishing child labour through a legislation will not help unless every child gets an opportunity to study in a school and every family has the means to afford the cost of education and feeding the child.