Like it happens every day with
them, they were calling to pull attention as I got down the Delhi Metro
station. It was the hottest day of May so far, over 45 degree Celsius.
It was routine, calling
passengers like this, but the rickshaw-puller on that day pulled my attention.
He was a lanky fellow, lean and thin, extremely skinny. His bones were visible
on his long and thin body. And he was underage too, certainly below 18.
His rickshaw was nearest to me so
it was natural I would go him but after seeing him, I was in two minds.
It was more due to his physical
structure than his age. I was in two minds that how would he pull the rickshaw
and how would he climb up the patch of the track with a passenger ?
I am anti to underage labour but
not the way it is in rulebooks. In fact, underage workers are prevalent and it
is a burning truth about India and many societies in other. And it is not
wrong. The first preference always goes to the survival instinct. And the
primal survival instinct is to survive each passing day by first having food
and a place to sleep.
And it is true for societies
across the world. We may debate the age
of underage workers. In India, education of children up to the age of 14 years
is state responsibility. Children up to 14 years of age cannot be employed,
except in 'family enterprise' and
'entertainment trade'. Children above 14 years can work based on socioeconomic
profile and survival needs.
This rickshaw-puller was around
16-17. Yes, like it happens he was not sure of his exact age. And like
everyone, he had all the rights to make ends meet of his life. The family
support for education goes up to at least 20-22 years of age but it is empty
sociological theory for many. Education is still a distant dream, an ignored
entity in the list of priorities of millions.
They know only one thing -
somehow to survive the day - while thinking for the next. And it is true in societies
across the world.
The rickshaw-pullers, originally
from the hinterland India but toiling in big and metro cities, are a prime
example of this social order, an order that is complex and multi-layered.
And like everyone in the society,
this rickshaw-puller, too, had every right to survive the life, to meet the basic
needs of the day and to think of the day coming next. There are many including
me who feel heat pangs even if the window is of 10 minutes while the people
like this rickshaw-puller earn their livelihood under the open sky, be it in the
scorching heat of May or June or in the rainy days of Monsoon.
I was in two minds that how would
this extremely lanky fellow would pull his rickshaw along with me. I was also
thinking that I had no right to deny him his livelihood because if it was not
me, he would carry someone else to earn his living.
The two minutes of dilemma gave
way to saying yes to the rickshaw-puller. I was thinking he would not be able
to pull the rickshaw easily and I would get down wherever required, i.e., on
the upslope of the track. Also, as is the case with me, I was thinking simultaneously
about my write-ups while taking the rickshaw-ride to my workplace. Public
transport is my favourite for the reason that it provides me with time and
ideas to think further about my written work.
While lost in my thoughts and
looking all around, I asked the rickshaw-puller if he could pull me and if he
went to the school.
He confidently said yes but what
he said on my second question I could not understand. His language was not
totally comprehensible but I could grasp from his words that he was around
16-17 years old and driving rickshaw at
this age was his compulsion.
Soon he proved his words - about
pulling the rickshaw. His speed was even faster than many well able-bodied ones.
He was pulling rickshaw efficiently and easily. And he carried me to my
destination in less than usual time.
I felt relieved - on the fact that he pulled rickshaw like any
other rickshaw-puller, like any other able-bodied person. He did not show the problems
I was thinking about. I was thinking to offer him some extra money but why I
didn't offer him I could not say.
But after leaving his rickshaw, I
was feeling good that, somehow, even if I was in two minds, I took the right decision
and didn't deny a person the chance to add to his share of daily earning.