Pariah By Association

Anuradha Bhosale continues with another story of life and the struggle to bring a better life to the nomadic children of Kolhapur India…. 

Anuradha Bhosale of AVANI and Gandhi Worldwide in Kolhapur IndiaThere was a bit of controversy about the prevalence of child labour in Kolhapur district. When I enquired of the concerned wing of the district administration about the incidence of child labour in the district I was sought to be told off by evasive replies. Then a fiat arrived from Mumbai about a survey of child labour and AVANI offered to conduct the survey. We were given a few talukas to cover, Karveer and Kagal talukas being among them. Before we approached the likely industrial units searching for child employment we came across cruder forms of window dressing by the owners of the small industrial units. 

Obviously our surveyors did not find any children occupied in the workplace, though there were many hanging around nonchalantly outside the make shift sheds. And we could see through the camouflage.  Nonetheless, we did come across children actually working in many other units, nearer the surrounding villages, which obviously were not forewarned by vested interests and were caught unawares.

The children were mostly from the fringe groups classified as nomads.  I came across those called, Vaidu, Beldar, Paradhi, Laman, Gosavi, Madari etc. They were distinct from each other, had a different lingo, different modes of dress and worship. The common factor was poverty and an unsettled way of life. Though small in numbers there was no trace of cohesion between them. They are exclusive in social behavior and inter – marriage is strictly prohibited. Once in Shiroli I came in contact with a group hailing from Telagana and spoke a Telugu dialect.  Some of them were good singers and tried to make a living by singing and dancing before village crowds.

Around 2001 we took the benefit of a scheme and started a few education centres near the habitations of these groups. There were facilities for play school and also nonformal literacy education for children of higher age group. Most of the children were found without any exposure to schools and for them we had to begin from the beginning. They had to be trained to sit quietly in a group and listen to the teacher without indulging in pranks and mischief among themselves. The elderly people of the settlements watched our teachers skeptically from the side – lines. It was a job to persuade the children to clean themselves. After a time the parents were asked to give the children regular change of clothes. Right from the outset some arrangements were made to give snacks to the children before they dispersed for the day. Then at one-to-one meetings with the parent(s) we mooted the prospect of enlisting the children in a home school.

After prolonged discussions and visits to our school house in JN Park the parents agreed to enroll the children in our place where they saw that their children will be looked after well.  For the children this new way of life where education, bellyful food of good quality and shelter was offered under one roof was a hugely welcome change. The first reaction of the boys was positive. They aspired to get educated, get into the police uniform or join the army and earn enough money to build a house, so that their homeless parents and siblings would no longer be obliged to wander from one place to another. The children have developed a deep conviction that education is the only means by which their lot can be improved. Therefore, no other incentive is needed for them to concentrate on their studies.

Nevertheless, many a time they are seen with their faces darkened with anxiety and eyes full of tears. When asked the reason they share their worries about their siblings left back home getting enough to eat, whether the drunk father may be beating their mother mercilessly and there would be none to rescue her. Earlier on, their squalor – infested life is made of days bitterly filled with a condensed potion of pain and misery : They have helplessly seen their infant brother or sister dying of disease for want of medicine. They have seen their half – starved and over – worked mothers dying inch by inch every day. 

They need a bit of assurance, they need some encouragement to put behind the pain – ridden past, and work for brightening the future, their future. And amazingly, their resilience is such that almost the next moment they are seen regaining their faith in their ability to change their lives, and that again, gives me added impetus to do one better by them. Thus recharged with confidence and determination I go among the people, our well – wishers, to muster more of their support.  At AVANI education has been a two – way street. There the children are educated, at the same time they educate me in many ways : Least of them is how to pocket insults and face life’s little ironies, of which we tend to make so much. And most of all, an unswerving belief in one’s possibilities.

… To be continued

Free English rendering : Arun Chavan
Original Marathi by : Anuradha Bhosale


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Anuradha Bhosale graduated from the Tata Institute for Social Work in Mumbai and worked as an apprentice to Arun Chavan at Verala Development Society. After understanding the needs of the area she branched out on her own creating a small organization called AVANI which is a Marathi language acronym for Clothes, Food and Home for the poor children.

Arun Chavan was a professor of English Literature at Kolhapur University when he saw the poverty and destitution that surrounded him. He decided to give up his job and devote his life to working for the poor. He founded the Verala Development Society and has been working for the past 40 years to bring about a socio-economic change in the area.

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