This is the story of Shubham alias Rahul, born to a poor family near Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh. He is 18 years old, works selling gutka, pan-masala on the railway station of Lucknow. He completed his education up to 9th standard and then left his school and chose this way of life. He is dilapidated young boy, lives alone in the nearby areas of the railway station. He is independent, directionless and yet goes about living his life confidently on the same railway stations we detest. He works 6-8 hours on the stations in scorching heat (temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius / 104 degrees Fahrenheit ), moving on to trains to sell his products, working tirelessly fighting off his misery. He fears the police, calls them foul words, curses and hates them. Being involved in illegal activity (selling of such products requires licences), he sometimes gets caught by the police officers. They take away the masala, hold him captive, beat him up and then release him. On the station his friends are wary of the police and keep a watch of them. “Saab ji, woh toh kutte hain, roti daalo paltu ban jaate hain (Sir, these police officers are dogs literally, what they want is their share.)“.
Lets look at his earnings. He buys a packet for about Rs 1.6 and sells each packet for Rs 3.33. He is able to sell almost 600 packets a day. That makes his total revenue of about Rs 7.3 Lakhs. His income comes about to be about 3 to 3.5 Lakhs (approximately, taking into account days he does not work and other factors). This is good to see someone earning so much independently, or is it ?? When asked about what he does with that much of money, he replied in a nonchalantly that he saves a little and spends a lot in gambling. His salary is almost double the salary of a bank clerk (~ starting salary of Rs 13K per month) in India.
There is wonderful work that an NGO (named Ehsaas) is doing to relocate lost children, providing them shelter and vocational training. Rahul’s stroy has yet another back story. He ran away sometime ago from his family was caught by this NGO and stayed there for a period of 2-2.5 months. He was sent back to his home. However, due to some fallout he came back to this station and adopted this hellish pathway.
Today, he wants to leave this work because he is uncomfortable working in such a shameful profession. He is reluctant to meet his relatives for fear of his parents’ reputation being maligned. He wants to give up this life of having to constantly be on the run away from the police officers. He wants a better future.
A number of problems emerge from this story:
- For once, the level of school education is far from ideal. Having studied up to class 9th, this child should have understood that selling pan-masala is not the best thing to do. Their was an organization to help him out, he could have been more mature and taken a more respectable career. The impact of poor quality education is dangerous. In one of the conversations this boy says, “Woh hamare padosi the, padhe bahut koi kaam na mila unko. Main toh bhaag aya school se. (Their was a neighbor, who although being well educated could not get educated and so I left the school). ” Our education policies, though ensure nishulk sarva shiksha (free education for all), yet a look at these kids and you know that merely teaching is not enough, education needs to make them aware such that they move away from vices.
- Secondly, there is a bigger problem we have at our hand. The problem is of an alternative vocation to selling masala packets. The issue is plain and simple. The vocation that our NGO provides is that of making paper bags. An estimated earning of a person there would be not more than Rs 50, besides they get free food, shelter, medical and sport facilities etc. Yet, one can never compare it with the money they can earn on railway stations. The difference in the amount of money they earn, eventually pulls them to selling masala on the railway stations. The lack of stable vocations is an impediment to the restoration of the childhood of these innocent kids.
I wonder how many such Rahuls, have been sent down this line, how many actually understand the gravity of the profession they have chosen, what future they would be moving on to (of cheating, adultery, even burglary, mafias etc. etc.), who is going to educate them about their rights, what ways are there to pull them off this path etc. etc. I guess, life is wonderful as long as we remain, in our cocoon of comfort, in our world of self-created minuscule problems, which get amplified by the fear-devil within. Once you step out, there are real heroes striving selflessly to change the lives of these young boys and girls, and that makes me sad because we never hear of them.
1. Gutka or Gutkha is a preparation of crushed areca nut(also called betel nut), tobacco, catechu, paraffin, slaked lime and sweet or savory flavorings.
2. Pan masala is made of Betel leaf filled with a mixture of chopped or coarsely ground areca nuts and other spices.