Just a few dozen metres from the main entrance of the Vidisha railway station, where thousands of people had assembled on Tuesday to welcome Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, seven-year-old Amit was begging barefoot.
Couple of blocks away in a bylane, 12-year old Raja was cleaning the handcart which also doubles up as his father's tea stall.
Elsewhere, just in front of a big welcome banner for Satyarthi, a group of children led by Tarun, 12, were out on their daily rounds to collect scrap, big bags slung over their frail shoulders.
In the hometown of the man who shared this year’s Nobel peace prize for his tireless effort against child labour, Kailash Satyrathi’s "homecoming" was a non-event — it was just another day in office for them.
This HT correspondent took a stroll through the markets and streets of Vidisha during the event — Satyarthi’s first visit to his hometown after winning the prestigious award — and found many Amits and Rajas eking out a living for themselves and their families by working in shops, manning roadside stalls and handcarts, collecting scrap and begging.
Amit, all of 7 years, explained why he was begging. "My papa and mummy died few years ago in an accident. After that, my brother also vanished. Now, I am all alone. I sleep in railway station here. Sometimes, I go to Bhopal and Ganj Basoda in trains, begging. But I never sleep there. I always come back to Vidisha station."
On whether he had heard about Satyarthi, Amit said he had seen his photographs but didn’t know who he was. HT couldn’t ascertain whether he was speaking the truth.
Young rag pickers laughed when questioned whether they knew about Satyarthi. "We have work to do. All you do is take photographs," said Tarun, 12, while running away from the HT photographer, in the backdrop of Satyarthi’s welcome banner in Vidisha’s busy market.
Twelve-year-old Raja, who was cleaning his father’s handcart, said he helps his father after school. "I come here after school hours and we sell tea together," he said.
Residents of Vidisha admitted that child labour was rampant in the town.
Rajya Sabha member and close friend of Satyarthi for the past three decades, Choudhary Munawwar Salim said it was fact that child labour still existed whether it was in Vidisha or elsewhere.
"I have spoken on record in Parliament that child labour and prostitution exists in our society despite the political rhetoric that much was being done. We have to address such issues collectively and strive for a change in mindset. Satyarthi has shown us the way, let us now work for fulfilling his dream of a society without child labour," he added.
In 2012, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 was amended by Union government to ban all work for children under the age of 14 and restricted non-hazardous work to adolescents between the age of 14 and 18.
Chairperson of State Commission for Protection of Child Rights Usha Chaturvedi told HT that child labour continued in the state and elsewhere because of many loopholes in the present system.
"Apart from creating more awareness, present laws need to be amended especially in the context of rehabilitation of child labourers. More funds need to be funneled for their rehabilitation. Also there should be a proper scheme for rehabilitation of child beggars. Besides, we need more coordination between the departments of women and child welfare, labour department and police department for stopping child labour."
Now based in Delhi, Satyarthi’s organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan does not have very effective network in Madhya Pradesh, sources said.