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.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/