Poverty and family debts keep children in Jharkhand’s Chorkheda village from attending school and take up beedi making as livelihood option

While 10-year-old Vineeta of Chorkheda village in Jharkhand’s Jarmundi Tehsil sweeps the floor in the early hours of the morning, her mother Hemantiya Devi arranges the beedi patta (tendu leaves) she had soaked in water the previous night. She sits in the verandah with tobacco, thread and scissors in the tray; Vineeta joins her mother soon in the grueling process of rolling beedis.

Her nimble fingers are busy rolling, passing, tying and stuffing the tendu leaves with the perilous zarda or tobacco for two hours before she leaves for school at 7 a.m. She will skip her afternoon classes to help her mother at home.

After long hours of this strenuous work, Vineeta is able to roll only two hundred beedis per day. “My parents took a huge loan to get my elder sister married. Now we have to repay that loan. Rolling beedis is the only way out for us,” she says without taking her eyes off the beedi in her hand.

Then why does she ‘waste’ even those hours in school? The answer lies in her dream – a dream of getting a good education rather than spend her life inhaling tobacco dust which fetches her a paltry Rs. 12 a day.

“We manage to save Rs. 500 a month. We have eight to 10 bighas of land lying barren since cultivation requires big investment. The malnourished bodies of my children are proof in themselves of the life we are living. But I am hopeful that one day my children will also attend all the classes in school like other children,” says Hemantiya, who shares the hope with several other parents in the village keen to send their children to school but fail due to extreme poverty.

Despite laws to protect children from all kinds of hazardous jobs and ensuring their compulsory education, stories of children dropping out of school and working under unsafe conditions pour in. A study conducted on children involved in beedi making in this village showed that 200 out of 300 children in the age group 6-14 years do not attend school. Most of those who do attend classes, drop out after Class V. In this village of 250 households, only one boy completed studies till Class XII.

Child labour is ubiquitous. According to official sources, India’s child labourer population is 1.7 crore of which 20 lakh children work in dangerous conditions while independent sources put this number to be between 4.4 to 10 crore. They can be categorized as ‘lost children’ since their names are neither enrolled in schools nor in the workers’ list of their respective workplaces. (Charkha Features)