A few years ago, Karthik never would have dared to dream. The 18-year old erstwhile child labourer has secured 1,156 marks in Plus-Two examinations this year.
His stoic tone belies the bygone struggles and downplays his current feat. At an age of nine, poverty drove him to a construction site with his father. It was the intervention of the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) that rescued Karthik from a building site, where he was giving a helping hand to his family of eight in Palacodde block here.
“I wanted to help my family, my parents never forced me. It was poverty that forced me to discontinue studies,” said Karthik talking about that dark period. He then attended a special school of the NCLP for two years, before he was mainstreamed for Standard VII.
In Class X, he proved his mettle with 475 marks. Jointly, with the help of the district administration, he was admitted to a private school and put in a hostel free of cost. Karthik now wants to become a cardiologist.
“I am happy beyond words,” said his father Velu (44), who ekes a livelihood as a hawker dealing with utensils. “I want my son to help the poor by becoming a doctor,” said his mother Uma Maheshwari, For this Aruthathiyar family, dreams now ride on Karthik’s shoulders.
V. Mahalakshmi’s father died when she was eight. Her mother was eking out a livelihood as a daily-wage labourer for a family of four and poverty forced Mahalakshmi to quit school after Class VI.
Life took a turn when NCLP officials in Tiruchi readmitted her to school after her undergoing a bridge course in the special training centre. On Thursday, this Dalit girl, who would have lived as a child labourer, secured 1142 marks in the higher secondary examinations.
“I would complete my lessons on day-to-day basis. I always want to become a doctor and I’m confident of entering a medical college,” said Mahalakshmi, whose younger sister Priyadarshini, also once a child labourer, is awaiting her SSLC results. Her brother is working as a casual labour at Tiruchi Airport.
Mahalakshmi was one among the 579 former child labourers who could attend school thanks to the initiatives of the NCLP. As many as 600 students from 15 districts wrote the higher secondary examinations and 579 of them passed.
Even though C. Muthuselvi from Thiruthangal in Virudhunagar district has scored 1135, she refused to join the rate-race of engineering admissions. “I always nurtured the dream of becoming a teacher and I will study English literature,” said Muthuselvi, who worked as a child labourer in the match industry after he mother died. When she is at home, Muthuselvi assists her grandmother who runs an idly shop.