Fayez was feeling much better today. So, we left home early in the morning. We headed towards the forlorn palace; the last standing reminder of a time when royalty thrived in the soils of Travancore. We wanted to meet the descendants of the royal family and hear stories of their past, understand their present and gauge their future. Much to our disappointment, they weren’t in town, yet again. The man sitting at the reception told us that sahib had gone to Madurai and would be back tomorrow.
After some breakfast, we went towards the workshop to meet Khaja. We wanted to talk to him about Mari. We found him sitting with his tools in the corner. We expressed our desire to understand Mari’s situation for we saw strength and vigour in that little boy’s soul. We were convinced that given a chance, he would flourish and evolve into a beautiful and strong human being.
“Mari’s father abandoned them when he was six years old. He has a younger sister and a brother. Their financial situation is quite dismal. I pay him Rs 100 a day. That’s all I can afford. Mari collects every paise of his earnings and gives them to his mother. He is a very bright boy and he can do a lot more than what is generally expected of a boy his age. He is unusually mature and calm. Sometimes, I forget that he is just a young boy,” said Khaja as he looked at Mari working on an automobile in a distance.
Before Mari, there were many people who worked for Khaja but they couldn’t last for long. They all had their own issues with ego. And, no one could stick around. However, with Mari, the energy was different. Everyone loved this little boy whose spirits knew no bounds. Khaja also told us that if he was still alive when Mari turns 20, he will hand over the garage to him. By then, Mari would know everything about automobiles.
The discussion then steered towards child labour laws in the country. It is easy for us to pass judgement and opinions on how immoral it is for a child to be embroiled in the ethical debate. However, everything is not as black and white as it seems. We have to understand the circumstances that forced kids to take up menial jobs to support their families. Sometimes it is to lend a helping hand to their mothers. Sometimes, it helps them put food on their tables.
According to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, children up to the age of 14 cannot be employed in hazardous occupations. Although, the initial amendment proposed complete prohibition of employment of children below 14 regardless of occupations and processes involved, the current government has given the green signal to employ them in ‘family-run’ enterprises. The list of such ‘organisations’ could include domestic help, street vending, rolling beedis, working in dhabhas, etc.
The worst affected would be those who are trying to make ends meet. With kids like Mari who had to become the man of the house at the age of six, taking away his only means of survival would have a disastrous effect on the financial situation of his family. Rather than addressing these issues fundamentally, the government is trying to provide capsule-sized solutions that only further aggravate the problem. If child labour is to be banned altogether, then alternate provisions should be made to the family to safeguard all concerns with respect to regular income and education. It is imperative that we look deeper into the lives of these kids and ensure a better life for them. And, in Mari’s case, his hard work and the life he has chosen for himself cannot be judged. He cannot be banned from making a living for himself and his family.
In conversation, Khaja mentioned to us that once he had suggested Mari to get a cell phone. But Mari flatly refused and said he didn’t need one. Over time, as he continued working at the workshop, there were many instances when customers came to get their cars fixed and Khaja wasn’t around. Mari had to keep calling him to inform him about specific cases and inquire the charges for each of them. This turned out to be quite a tedious process. One day, Mari came to Khaja with some savings and asked him to buy him a cell phone.
“So, how do you think you can help Mari and his family?,” asked Khaja. We told him that it wasn’t up to us to decide how we can help him. We need to understand what Mari wants for himself. We expressed our desire to talk to his mother and find out how we could do something for her extraordinary child and her family. Khaja pondered over what we said for a while and nodded his head. “You can meet her whenever she is free. She works all the time and she works too much,” explained Khaja with a smile.
Later, we went to the forest department to speak to the officer and inform him that the land was being cleared for the artist residency project. But he wasn’t around. We decided to park the jeep under a tree next to a small temple on Theni-Munnar highway and relax for a while. The officer was expected to be back in a few hours.
We walked around the temple and the sight of a female deity stepping over a bull’s head caught our attention. For, it was an act of ferocity; a reminder of the intensity of devi’s energy. It felt as if she drewher power from the vast expanse of the cosmos to channel her wrath onto those who harmed her children. The symbolism hidden in the sculpture could be attributed to a sense of devotion and fear of the unknown.
After a while, we headed back to the department. We met the officer and he turned out to be a warm and lovely human being. He assured us that he would do everything in his power to get official clearance to go ahead with our work. We were absolutely thrilled to get a positive response from him.
We left the office and came back home. In a few minutes, Fayez barged into our room visibly upset and said that his parents were travelling to Coimbatore tomorrow. They wanted to wrap up their things from this house and shift to his father’s farm in Bodi. His father demanded him to come home and take his things or he would throw them away.
Fayez wanted us to accompany him to Coimbatore. We politely obliged. However, the negativity and indifference shown by his parents towards him hurt us and we did not wish to partake in their family matters. He needed us for support and we decided to be there for him.
As we left from his house, we couldn’t stop thinking about our inability to accept people for who they are and our tendency to judge them for who they aren’t…
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502