BANSWARA (RAJASTHAN): The onset of monsoon has ushered in lushness that villagers in the scattered hamlets of Banswara and Pratapgarh, the two most backward districts of Rajasthan, keep craving for in the otherwise parched region throughout the year. But all that joy the rains bring is lesser this time.
Saral Dev, a farm labourer in Memkhor village about 50 km for the district headquarters of Banswara, just saw off his brother Pooran’s family, consisting of six children, move to Gujarat, lock stock and barrel, in search of livelihood.
This was soon after two of Pooran’s boys — Satva and Raja, aged 8 and 10 — were brought back from a shepherd or gaderia in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, in June.“The shepherd who had taken away the two boys had been paying Rs 4,000 to Pooran for last three years and that was a major source of income for the family,” says Saral, hunched against the wall of his brother’s house that is now locked, with a forlorn look.
“After the boys were brought back by police and the authorities, the family wanted to leave the village as they had no means to survive. Now it pains me to even look this side.” Pooran and Saral shared just two bighas of land and what they cultivated was never sufficient for the large families the two brothers had.
Saral hesitantly admits that when Pooran decided to send his sons away, he, too, was tempted to do the same but did not do so because his son keeps unwell. “He would have died if I had sent him to work for the gaderia,” he said. Asked if he knows of any other family in the village or other hamlets in the area which have given away their children for similar work, he answers with a silence.
Thirteen children from the two districts, who were given away as child labourers to shepherds have been rescued in the last three months, but nobody knows exactly how many children in the tribal dominated region were willingly handed over nearly as slaves to earn money for their parents and siblings back home.
Social workers in the area estimate it could be 50-60 even over 100. “Since village heads are least bothered and the administration does not keep track either, it’s hard to say how many children are missing, but we suspect that the numbers could be rather alarming,” said Parmesh Patidar of NGO Vagdhara, which runs the Child Line, a helpline for distressed children, in the area.
Gulab Chand Kataria, BJP MLA and former home minister of Rajasthan who first highlighted the issue in the state Assembly, said finding out the exact number is a must. “After my intervention, child welfare committees in two districts have agreed to get the tribal villages surveyed to find out how many children have been given away for child labour to earn for their families,” said Kataria.
The district administration, however, is quick to dismiss the concerns that the activists in the region have.
“There have been some cases (of children being taken away as child labourers by shepherds), but it’s not a widespread phenomenon nor are there any eye-popping numbers,” said Banswara collector Ashish Gupta. “Maybe, there are most such children from Pratapgarh, which also has a high tribal population, but from Banswara there are very few cases.”