At Anna Univ. messes, boys are employed to clean and serve
It is a busy day at Anna University on Monday, as exams are barely a week away. During lunch hour, students hurry to the different messes of the university and try to get done with the ritual as soon as possible.
Attending to them there — cleaning the dirty tables and clearing the dishes — is a quiet, little boy, aged not more than 12. “We have asked him his age several times. He does not say anything. You can see him all the time but people here don’t let you talk to him,” said a student.
Students said the boy has been there for some months now. “It is heart breaking to see these children work all day, while we study. When we ask the supervisor, he hides them for few days, and then, they are back,” he said.
At the university, there are separate messes for students of every batch, and for girls and boys too. According to a student, “It is a good system because there is no ragging and since there are fewer people, the quality does not decline.” Students said at least three children work in these messes. “The entry rules are quite strict. Even teachers and the dean are not allowed, so the matter is never escalated,” said a student.
At the non-vegetarian mess some distance away, another boy helps kitchen staff in cutting vegetables. He ran away, when approached, even as another helper said. “His parents work nearby as construction workers. He does not do heavy work here, only cleaning tables,” he said.
Students said the boy had told them that he was from Howrah in West Bengal.
The students have taken up the issue. “We had earlier asked the supervisor why he was using children to serve food. He said they have no other work to do. We are trying to bring this to the notice of our hostel authorities,” a student said. “It is also difficult because many of these children, especially those from north India, look very young, but might be older. We don’t want them to be exploited,” he added.
Some of them also took pictures of the children working and shared them widely. “We also posted it on the Facebook walls of our teachers. I am sure they will take action soon,” he added.
Anna University Vice-Chancellor P. Kaliraj said he had asked all contractors to ensure no child labourer worked at the messes. “Some of them might be employing their relatives. I have asked them to strictly refrain from doing so. If anything of this sort comes to my notice, I will ensure the child is rescued and enrolled in school immediately.”