Opinion » Columns » Harsh Mander

Updated: February 17, 2012 15:01 IST

Barefoot: Children beyond divides

Harsh Mander
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They too have dreams... Photo: R. Ragu
The Hindu They too have dreams... Photo: R. Ragu

Will they realise their dreams of a better future?

A young boy of 10, Anil, peeps into the hostel room of Harsh Gupta, delivering his laundered clothes one evening, and asks him tentatively, “Do you know how electricity is produced?” Harsh, a student at IIM Ahmedabad replies: “Yes! You want to know about it?” Anil nods eagerly. Harsh tells him electricity comes from water. When huge amounts of water fall from a height, electricity is produced. But Anil is unconvinced. “In my village whenever there are rains, we don't have electricity for days and weeks.”

Building a bond

A bond grows between the young boy and the MBA student. Anil confides one day why he ran away from his village in the hills of Uttaranchal. His father, a drunkard, would beat his mother and the children. Anil got the worst of it, and one day lifts his shirt to reveal a deep scar on his belly from one of these lashings. He works with his uncle in Ahmedabad, who gives him his meals, and beats him but less often. He asks Harsh wistfully about school, and wishes he could have studied and made something of his life.

In a course I teach annually at IIM Ahmedabad, I ask my MBA students to research and write the story of one impoverished person. Many MBA students write stories of children. Mahima Chugh visits 16-year-old Ganpat Thakur incarcerated in a remand home. The first thing that strikes her about the boy is his refusal to look away from his feet. Back in his village, a cascading feud over a game of cards ended with a murder by the men of Ganpat's family. The others went to jail, while under-age Ganpat was locked up in the remand home. Mahima describes the daily routine at the remand home, which “is not only monotonous but devoid of any physical or mental activity. The restriction of staying within a dormitory rules out outdoor games and the limited set of books and absence of any teaching or training programme ensures that the day passes by cooking, eating, sleeping and watching TV. Ganpat has found something better to do with his time. He has discovered books and the joy of reading. He has almost finished all the Gujarati books in the so called library”, not more than a single shelf.

Mudit Chandra draws an affectionate picture of cheeky Sachin, whom he meets in an after-school coaching centre for slum children run by an NGO called Arzoo. They initially bond with each other discussing the Indian cricket team. The little boy's idol is bowler Zaheer Khan. “Have you not seen how far back Dhoni stands when Zaheer is bowling? You cannot catch the balls by Zaheer if you stand too close to the wicket,” he tells Mudit expertly. Sachin's father, a carpenter, wastes his money on illicit liquor. The household is largely supported by his mother, who gets up at four in the morning and goes to help in unloading the trucks at the nearby sabzi-mandi. Sachin himself, after school and coaching, at four in the evening, sells vegetables which his mother brings back from the vegetable market.

Gayatri, 13 years old, cleans dishes in the homes of faculty in the IIM campus, and tends a one and a half year child. She nostalgically remembers her village in Orissa, where she went to school. But after a labour contractor recruited her father for construction work in IIM Ahmedabad, her schooling was interrupted; she was initially unable to enter a school in Ahmedabad because she lacked documents and did not know Gujarati. It was then that she began to work. Today, between work, she is able to go to a government school in its afternoon shift. Amruta Dhokale writes: Gayatri “does not like washing utensils in people's homes, but is doing it to support her family. She wants to complete her education and become a teacher when she grows up and make her parents proud of her.”

Growing gulf

Ashish Jha meets 12-year-old Mujahid in Juhapara, a Muslim ghetto in Old Ahmedabad that swelled with victims of the 2002 carnage who were unable to return to their villages, in another after-school centre supported by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Among the children there, he found Mujahid the brightest and most confident. “He wants to become a doctor and has a clear plan to it,” he writes. “Right now he is in the seventh. He will study hard for the 10th boards and then the 12th. Then he'll do great in college and get an MBBS. I was amazed by his conviction and self-belief. We briefly discussed God, suffering, curse and sins. He had a clear and precise definition for all.”

Ashish describes the communal divide, which has grown between children after 2002. The children were sharing jokes, and “there was a particular pattern that I found amusing. There were these jokes on a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian trapped on the 20th storey of a building on fire. They all jumped one after another and due to some funny reason the Hindu kept dying every time. I recalled listening to similar jokes in my childhood; only that the Muslim kept dying in them.” Ashish adds: “I asked if any of them has Hindu friends. All went silent. Only Mujahid quietly said, ‘Not any more'.”

Keywords: child rightspoverty

The article is nice. Recently, it has become the rhetorical self gratification tactics of the middle, upper middle and the upper class of the society to talk of the social issues and pains.. This is what my point is. Rather than an army of journalists and a plethora of articles on awakening of society, we need crusaders who are ready to do the dirty work and not sit in ac offices and worry about them. I sincerely feel, if you know the problem and if you are doing anything but solving them, probably you are just the part of the problem. Its nice to know them but definitely not enough. My point: Stop pitying them and elude ourselves into complacence. Start acting.

from:  Shirshendu
Posted on: Feb 12, 2012 at 14:07 IST

Its a true fact that without a good support from parents or friends or relatives a child finds it difficult make his/her dream true.Our country is a agricultural country and most of the population lives in villages ,where the basic facilities like schooling,electricity etc r missing. most of us r from rural background ..we got the oppourtunity because our parents did hardwork and made us educated instead of breaking the bond with our village ,we can atleast make some kind of supportive environment for the poor children ,so that they can prosper if they r hardworking.if each focus on his own village some change can be made .You got help from someone ,if you can ,help your village in some or the other

from:  Suresh
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 01:24 IST

Ah! we're moved to tears by kids from ivory towers roughing it with the
unwashed masses. But when someone tries to get some of the unwashed
masses into the IITs or AIIMSes or DUs.. good god! such an outcry! India
doesn't hold the title to hypocrisy but we're certainly a huge

from:  Nirmal Kumar
Posted on: Feb 7, 2012 at 14:42 IST

Every course must have a societal touch to generate good governors and human for the future.Why to wait for the goverment to do something for us and for our kids laden in poverty???..we being a citizen of India are equally entitilted to work towards its development.
If each person comes face to face with his/her purpose in life and give a helping hand to the people in need then in no time India will become what it deserves to become.

from:  Neha
Posted on: Feb 7, 2012 at 12:25 IST

I hope more of Prof Harsha Mander's colleagues will expose their priveleged students to the reality that our poor children wake up to everyday in India. MBA is generally seen as a means to high paying jobs in profitable enterprises. Maybe profs like Harsha Mander can show that there is real social value to such program whose graduates may one day address the problems of our poor children. Let us all bind together to make all poor childrens' future brighter.

from:  v gupta
Posted on: Feb 4, 2012 at 04:56 IST

Beautifully written and very touching. Lets hope this inspires each of us to take a small step to help underprivileged children in our own way.

from:  Sheryl
Posted on: Feb 1, 2012 at 17:24 IST

The article truly brings out that, though the children have dreams but their situation does not let them pursue it. It makes me think the reason behind it us, the parents or their economic conditions? Whatever it may be, it is very painful to see the sight in "Shining" India. This reminds me of Robert Frost poem's line, "Miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep".

from:  Shashi
Posted on: Feb 1, 2012 at 09:59 IST

Harsh Mander covered real stories of the young minds who crave for
reaching the pinnacle in life. Desires and aspirations are sometimes
turned to reality when such brilliant kids get a helping hand.
However, many such stories die due to lack of support. There are many
such hidden and soul-stirring stories in India which are submerged for
want of resources. Let's bridge the gap and connect the haves and the
have-nots. Opportunities are unlimited, connectivity is important.
NGOs and Corporate bodies need to network and find a solution and
bring smiles around.

from:  Dr.Narayan Iyer
Posted on: Jan 31, 2012 at 09:23 IST

Great article Harsh. In the book India calling, the author Anand Gridhardas mentions about a youth Ravindra Misal who with sheer struggle and hard work overcomes the glass ceiling and becomes successful. I am glad the premier institutes like IIM are struggling to provide real world interaction for their students.Kudos to the staff at IIM who made this a compulsory subject.

from:  Mahesh
Posted on: Jan 31, 2012 at 02:34 IST

What should I say...Its the situation of India right now......Its sad that there many such stories all over India. I am speechless after reading this...You really have done a good job.

from:  Deepa Kumar
Posted on: Jan 29, 2012 at 20:49 IST

it is sad, painful and only occassionally tells us how far we need to go as country and species...

from:  moloy goswami
Posted on: Jan 29, 2012 at 19:13 IST

Great read! Gives a clear story of the present India, sorry to say but children choosing their friends this carefully is the harsh reality with which politics is run in India. Religion and politics are so tangled and difficult to separate. The Rushdie episode portrays why India wants to prevent its minority. What is the cause of human suffering? Answer- Desire! Bright Mujahit may find it a good suffering being in India to get what he desires. Gayatri, Anil & Sachin may be a bit better off. Were are equal opportunities & Human rights?

from:  gopinathan bimalsony
Posted on: Jan 29, 2012 at 18:59 IST

Poverty coupled with illeteracy is the root cause of all the problems which the poor masses are facing for a pretty long. How earnestly we can address their problems is the real issue.This issue now should not remain a lip service.

from:  m.k.agrawal
Posted on: Jan 29, 2012 at 18:55 IST

It is heartening to note that colleges are finding time to learn the pangs of the deprived by going deep down in to where they are .No doubt the raw realities which goes in to the mind of the students will certainly influence them when they opt for a career. To the least they will not find the need for an interpreter to reach where the down trodden are. Such indelible images cast in ones subconscious mind will always speak from the back of the mind about what is good and bad even if one scales the pinnacle of leadership. Dr.APJ once recognized a watchman (from a sea of audience) whom he had met many years before leading the former to become tearfully sentimental on enquiring his welfare from with in the Presidential suite. Every course must have a societal touch to generate good governors for the future. If we fail to have it in the course it equally fails in the career and in the society as well.

from:  Bose A Panicker
Posted on: Jan 29, 2012 at 14:19 IST

very true harsh,,,,,,,india is full of such children who have not seen school,i did a project last year on child labour n deeply moved by a boy named sinku,,,,,,who works in a dhaba,,,he hails from u.p, father a drukard n mother a asthama patient,,2 sisters n one brotehr,,,,he is alone to look after them,,,,,monthly he sends them money,,,,,i told him to quit the job n go to school but his reply left me dumb.,.he said,,if i go to school ,who will look at my family? i will get free eductaion ,i knw but who will give free food to my family? we need to work for those circumstances that force these children to work....banning child labour alone will not solve the problem

from:  kiran bhardwaj
Posted on: Jan 29, 2012 at 13:47 IST

Barefoot!Harsh bares soul of India!

from:  Beant Singh Bedi
Posted on: Jan 29, 2012 at 13:24 IST

Harsh: what an excellent piece , you have written? Your story reflects what is happening in India? Will not be tear wiped from every eyes in our country? Gap between majority poor and negligible rich getting wider year to year! What for our Constitution, which describes equal treatment to all? Such inequalities have led to poor taking up arms for protecting their rights and the government describes their action anti-national and take repressive measures. This is what our India that is Bharat/////////?
my blog

from:  krishn kumar singh
Posted on: Jan 29, 2012 at 11:43 IST
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