In a picture of contrast, many school and college students from the economically weaker sections here are working in mandis (grain markets) here to make both ends meet rather than preparing for participation in youth festivals and festive celebrations in their institutes.
The students facing financial hardships try to avail the opportunities to earn some money during the paddy season to lessen the burden of their education expenses. Although they too have desires and wishes like other youngsters, they have no time to prove themselves in such extra-curricular activities.
Students work as labourers in mandis and do odd jobs like stitching, unloading and loading of trolleys, cleaning, separating grain from the chaff and filling bags. The wages paid for various works are 1.96 paisa per unit for unloading, 1.29 paisa per unit for machine stitching, 0.97 paisa per unit for stitching by hand, 1.55 paisa per unit for loading.
Students have to work under commission agents and ‘tolla’ leaders (leader of group of labourers in mandis). They only manage to earn about `10,000 in 40-45 days of the paddy season.
Lovdeep Singh, a civil engineering student at Raikot, said, “Paddy season is an opportunity to earn `10,000 in about one-and-a-half months but it is very hard manual labour. My parents are also labourers and they are unable to afford the expenses of the education and necessities of their 4 children. So if I want to study and wish for a better life, then I have to do manual labour to earn some money.”
Jony Singh, a Class 10 student at Pakhowal, said, “I have two siblings and my parents are labourers. It is very difficult for my parents to provide for our school fee and other necessities in life. So I have to work in the mandi during the paddy season. The work is very hard but I have no alternative.”
“I have a keen interest in studies but I can study only if I work to support myself. It is impossible for me to study with what my parents can provide. I work during both the major harvest seasons of wheat and paddy after every six months. Each season of about 40 days helps me to earn approximately `10,000 and this is the only way I can manage my education expenses and also support my family,”said Arishdeep Singh, a diploma student.
The condition of migrant youth from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, or even Nepal is much worse. They are forced to shelve any dreams of education and progress and leave their native places in search of work for mere survival.
Arun, hailing from Bihar, works in the new grain market at Salem Tabri, Ludhiana. “I dropped out of school two years ago when I was in Class 8. Financial hardships forced me to become a full-time worker in Ludhiana and earn for myself and my family.”
Educationist Jaswant Singh Gill said, “Most students never reach higher education institutes. Almost 90% higher education and professional education institutes are in private hands. Many poor students can only manage pocket money by doing manual labour. If we want to spread education in these deprived sections of society, the government should provide scholarships, financial assistance, books and other necessities.”