His face full of stitches, 18-year-old Musaleem Ahmed lies on his bed at Malegaon’s Farhan Hospital as father Khalil Ahmed looks on worriedly.
Aside from the anxiety about his son — Musaleem was one of about 270 injured in Friday’s blasts — Ahmed is also worried about how the family will support themselves while the boy recovers. The sole breadwinner in the family of seven — Musaleem has two brothers and three sisters — he will be in hospital for at least two weeks.
“Whoever did this must be punished,” he mutters. “The ones who died got away, while we the living are doomed to suffer.”
Musaleem earned Rs 500 per week working at a powerloom.
And his is not the only family caught in this predicament. A huge chunk of those injured in the blasts are youths and teenagers. In a town where poverty is pervasive and large families common, parents are forced to pull their children out of school early and send them to the powerlooms, with wages starting as low as Rs 200 per week.
The loss of each injured man’s livelihood, even if he isn’t the sole breadwinner, is going to be a hard blow for their families.
“Poverty forces many of the children in civic schools to drop out around Class 4 to go to work in powerloom units,” says civic education board chairperson Atiq Kamal. “The fact that civic education is provided only up to Class 7 also complicates matters, as parents are unable to afford the exhorbitant fees and donations charged by private schools.”
Adds local shopkeeper Hamdani Shakeel Ahmed, who also freelances for a local weekly: “Parents are not too keen to educate their children as they feel that this will not guarantee them better jobs. Instead, they prefer to send them to work, as a few hundred rupees more per week can make a huge difference.”
Many children start working as early as 10 years old, adds Hamdani. And they marry early too, usually around the age of 18.
The official figures are shocking. As against a state average of 79 per cent literacy, Malegaon’s literacy rate is just 56 per cent. And it’s even lower for girls, at 49 per cent compared to the state average of 71 per cent.
With poverty and illiteracy so widespread, most youths turn to religion for solace — a fact borne out by the large number of young men at the blast sites.
And it is just this environment that makes the youngsters easy prey for fundamentalist outfits.
As Hamdani put it: “It is said that the future of a society lies in the youth. In such circumstances, where are we headed?”