For most children, Diwali is a time of lights, crackers, new clothes, sweets and lots of fun. For some of them, however, the festival means something different.
Eleven-year-old Sanjay and his nine-year-old brother Ajay have set up a temporary roadside stall at the Munirka market in south Delhi where they sells pictures of goddess Lakshmi as well as diyas of various shapes and sizes.
“We set up our shop on karva chauth and run this till Diwali every year,” says Sanjay. There are many children like them who have opened shops at this market.
When asked if they went to school, the brothers reply in the affirmative, “We do go to school. Our class were over an hour ago, so now we have come here to sell diyas. In the evening, our parents will join us.”
A few steps away, 13-year-old Jaisingh and his 10-year-old brother, Sonu, sat at another makeshift shop, awaiting customers for a pile of colourful designer candles. “We haven’t sold any today, but hope to do so by evening.” Do they go to school? The brothers seem nervous and look at each other. “Our schools are shut now,” says Jaisingh in a hesitant tone.
At the Sarojini Nagar Market, 13-year-old Mohit runs from one end of the market to the other, hawking toran and other decorative items. “I sell these for Diwali, else I sell different things during other times of the year,” he says, adding meekly that he doesn’t go to any school and that he has to do daily struggle to supplement the family income.
While thousands of Sanjays, Ajays and Jaisinghs, across the country work during Diwali to make ends meet during this part of the year, many more do so throughout the year. The fortunate ones, on the other hand, plan their festivities in advance and look forward to their school holidays. Even as they are in celebration mode, many of these children also empathise with their less privileged counterparts.
Sushmita Krishnamurthy, a class VIII student of Mater Dei, Tilak Lane is excited about the Diwali but she also feels for the children who do not have the luxury to enjoy the festival. “I feel very bad about them. There should be some kind of the government trust that can provide scholarships to these children and help them in their study. We do give money and clothes to them but that is of temporary help. Frankly, I cannot really help them all on my own. The only way I can help them is to teach them.”
Bharat Goel, a class XII student of ASN Sr Sec School, Mayur Vihar suggests, “I think the parents of these children should be helped by the government first. They should be provided employment so that they don’t feel the need to send their children to work and have enough money to send them to school instead. At a personal level, I can only help them by teaching whatever I know, since I do not have enough resources.”
The stark contrast between the two sections is a grim reminder of how child labour continues to be practiced in our country. According to the law, the employment of children below 14 is illegal –– but only on paper. The issue of legality is lost on these children and their parents as they consider the festival as little more than a source of income. While they help light and brighten the homes and lives of others, their own homes and lives continue to be enveloped by the darkness of poverty and illiteracy.
Diwali symbolises the victory of the good over evil. As we set out to celebrate the event this year, let us hope, pray and work to vanquish the evil of child labour. Only then can we ensure that no child is deprived of a chance to enjoy Diwali celebrations without being burdened with the thought of having to earn for his/her family.