S. Gopal (16) of Venanthur in Rasipuram Taluk was 11 years old when he had to drop out of school to become a bonded labourer to support his sister's marriage. Three years later he was back to formal schooling., scored 94.2 % in X standard exams and emerged third ranker in district

S. Gopal (16) of Venanthur in Rasipuram Taluk was 11 years old when he had to drop out of school to become a bonded labourer to support his sister's marriage.

Three years later he was back to formal schooling. Fighting all odds he scored 471 marks (94.2 per cent) – Science (100), Maths (98), Tamil (97), Social (96) and English (80) – in the Class ‘X' Board examinations this year.

“My parents – weavers – hardly earned Rs. 1,000 a week and spent all their money on my eldest sister's wedding. They took a loan for my second sister's wedding. A powerloom unit in our locality offered Rs. 15,000 as advance for working there for two years, for which I volunteered. I gave the money for my third sister's marriage,” he told The Hindu.

While working he attended a government school for school dropouts for two hours a day in the afternoons. “The unit calculated my working hours and asked me to work for one more year without any extra pay”, he said.

The turning point in his life was when his differently abled elder brother S. Kathirvel scored 491 marks – the third highest score in the district in the Class ‘X' Board exam in 2009 – for which he got a government scholarship. “He gave Rs. 1,500 to the unit to release me two months ahead of the end of the third year, motivated me, convinced my parents and helped me join VIII standard at the Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Venanthur in June 2009,” Gopal said.

“He could have scored more if he had not worked in the powerloom in his house till few days before the board exam,” school headmaster T. Madeshwaran said, adding that the teenager scored more than 485 marks in the exams conducted by the school.

“I had to earn Rs. 100 for my family every day as my father could not work since his leg was badly injured while working in a powerloom unit near our house,” Gopal said. He said that he made use of the special coaching at school. He attributed his successful outcome to the support of his brother and mentoring by his teachers.

Gopal expressed confidence of doing better in the Plus Two and wishes to pursue MBBS like his brother. His parents Subramani (57) and Vijaya (45), headmaster, teachers, friends and neighbours confirmed that he was a child labourer who returned to school. However, officials at the National Child Labour Project claimed that they were not aware of Gopal as he was not rescued by them.

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