D wrote a post on child labour, which reminded me of the one time I employed someone I was sure was a minor, despite parental affirmations to the contrary.
My current-at-the-time maid who was moving to her hometown had brought her as a replacement, and the only reason I didn't send her off rightaway was that I was pregnant and throwing up 24/7.
Just putting down a post I had writen elsewhere on Ganga, in 2006
This weekend, while rolling out chappatties, I was idly reading an article on the newspaper I had laid out to spread the chappatties on... It was on child labour- or the necessities of doing away with child labour.
I am all support for the abolishment of child labour. Every child has the right to his/her childhood- a time all of us look back upon with such nostalgia. But will the government by abolishing child labour, ensure that the child gets to spend its formative years happily, peacefully, usefully? Without falling into the clutches of unscrupulous people, without getting abused, without suffering the pangs of hunger? Will it ensure that the child doesn't see its siblings crying for food, its parents worried over where the money for the next mouthfull , the next instalment of rent will come from? Will it ensure that he/she has a roof above his/her head?
I think not.
However I do not know what the solution is, unless it is one that is too Utopian. Where every child lives as the apple of its parents' eyes. And parents who are not living below poverty line.
The article also led me to wonder about Ganga, a delightful child who had come to help me out in my household chores about 2 years back. We had moved into our new flat, and as is the headache whenever you move into a new place, were on the lookout for a maid. There were still 2 more flats being constructed in the vicinity and there was no dearth of women volunteering as maids.I was quite satisfied with the one I got, but about 6 months into the job, she had to go back to her native place She came to me with a replacement- a girl who would have been hardly few feet above my waist. I was horrified, so was my husband. But the good woman insisted that she- Ganga- did all the housework in her house -sweeping, washing vessels, clothes etc and was a good worker and was older than she looked. When I still refused, Ganga spoke up. She pleaded with me to let her work in my house as her family needed the money and was offended at the fact that I thought her too small. She was vociferous in support of her qualifications to work in my house and finally wore down my reservations.
The next day Ganga reported to work promptly. Her responsibilities included sweeping, swabbing and washing vessels. Being a child (till date I do not know her age, but I wouldn't have put it above 10-12yrs when she came to work for me) I did a fair share of the work in the initial days. But she knew the earlier lady's work profile and insisted that she do the same.
Ganga was a delight to have in the house. She had a child's innocent pleasure still in going about her chores, and a disarming smile every time our eyes met. She was a shy creature, but yet mature beyond her years and confident. The microwave and computer, which were not familiar objects to her were sources of unending delight. The TV was a big attraction as well, and sometimes, when my husband had left for office and her work was over, she would stay on and watch. Not being a TV freak, I would be reading and she would be watching, ( for her sake I would put on Kannada music/film channels) until she woke up to her responsibilities and ran off home as she had to finish up her washing and cleaning at her home.
Yes, Ganga would come to my house on the dot of seven and sweep, and swab my house and also clean up the dirty utensils. (Tue, and Fri, she would clean the bathrooms as well.)This would take up her time till 9, when she was actually free to leave. After that she had to go home and finish her sweeping and cleaning at her home, wash vessels and wash clothes at her home. and after all this, look after her brother's baby, as her sister-in-law had to sweep the flat premises.All this from a slightly built, chit of a girl. She used to make me feel ashamed of myself and my laziness, (for compared to her, that was what I was).
One of my flatmates owned a parlour and Ganga took on the responsibility of sweeping the parlour as well, in the morning. In the afternnon, she would have to go and fetch water from a public tap about a 20 min away from her house. So her time was chock full of chores and it was hard physical work , that she did- most of the time, only lapsing into occasional bouts of laziness. And all this from a young girl who should be going to school and playing with her classmates and doing her school homework, not housework.
With all this, she was the most cheerful maid I ever had. Gradually she started to open up more and more. She knew only kannada and I knew barely some, so our conversations together were a source of unending fun to both of us.We used to end up laughing at each other's ignorance and it was a wonder that we managed to communicate anything at all, but we managed beautifully.She was more resourceful than me too. She volunteered to take the newspapers to the vendor down the road, instead of giving it to the nespaper boys who would come by every weekend- she got more money for them that way, and I gave her 10 bucks for her pains. She would lug the newspapers all the way balancing them on her head. When I protested saying it was too heavy, she would laugh at me and say she lifted heavier loads of drinking water for her home. She would sell the milk packets as well (that money, I let her keep).
I was pregnant at the time and she would look at me with concern as I would puke, puke and puke yet again. When I had to leave for my hometown at the end of 7 months, she saw me off fondly, telling me to come back soon with the baby. By now she had made friends with my husband too, who was totally taken with with Ganga.(She was the first maid whom he could relate to as a person, talk to and joke with and scold :-)) Actually nobody who came to my house was not charmed by Ganga- precocious girl -woman that she was- playful,yet responsible; shy, yet talkative; reserved, yet bold.. Ganga was, as I have said earlier, a delight.
When I came back with my baby, she was one of the most delighted persons in the flat. She was shy initially, but gradually, she started cooing to my son and making these weird noises to catch his attention ( she probably did the same antics with her nephew at her home) My husband and I would be convulsed by these noises, but we never let her know that and as if to prove her right, my son would be totally entranced by those weird noises and playful contortions.
But it was time for her to move on... One day she came to me and asked me to increase her salary (at the time I used to pay her 350/-). It was going to be a year since she had joined us, so without demurring, I said I would increase it to 450/- Then she asked me with hope, and yet no hope in her expressive eyes, if I could give her 2000/-. I was flabbergasted and said that I could not. Then I probed and asked her what the problem was.
The problem was money. Her father was a construction worker and had found her a job on a construction site that would pay 60/- per day.And since the whole family worked on the site, they were comfortable with her also working on the site. By now Ganga had grown a few inches- she was probably closer to my shoulders now, but she still didn't look any older than she did when she came to me.
If I was horrified at the thought of her doing housework then, I was even more dismayed now. My shy, vulnerable Ganga on construction sites! Unimaginable. I asked her if she wanted to go. She said that she didn't want to , but the money? Her family needed the money. They had a new mouth to feed, and it WAS a big hike from the 500- 600 that I could offer her.
I asked her if she would be able to do the hard work. She shrugged and smiled and said philosophically, everybody does it, with time I will adjust, will have to adjust.
Yes, I knew her to be resourceful and responsible and hardworking.An asset to any family. And if the work was going to be hard (probably backbreaking in the initial days) , her family was there to support her. I had met her father and mother and sister-in-law at tmes.A rough noisy lot, but loving and warm hearted and extremely close-knit.
So,wishing each other well from the bottom of our hearts, we parted ways. And my Ganga moved on, yet another dop in the vast ocean of humanity going about earning their daily wages, to meet their family requirements. Proud to be doing her bit to contribute.
Yet another child labourer?
This was in our old flat, and I still bump into her when I go there. She is a young woman now, as bashful and cheerful as ever, and will make some young man an admirable wife. She still works on construction sites.
4 days ago