Saga of Ramesh and friends

Tough childhood

Unmindful of the burning summer sun, a lean young boy of 10-12 years, white kitchen cloth and multi USB charger cables around his neck went about plying his trade. He approaches the swanky cars when the traffic signal turns red asking ‘sahab aapko multi-charger aur yeh kapada chahiye,’ modulating his voice he adds, “I will reduce the price if you buy.” He peeps inside the car in desperation, hoping for a positive response. When the reply is not forthcoming he walks further to another vehicle with his head down.

When asked he says, “My name is Ramesh and I’m 14. I came to Delhi two days back from Bihar.” Suspicious of such questions he warily informs that his brother who is 35 years old brought him to Delhi for studying and his brother has gone in search of school for him. During a longer conversation with Metrolife, he reveals, “My brother teaches me in the night and is now taking rest in the garden nearby.”

Ramesh sells charger at Rs 100-150 a piece, and kitchen cloth for Rs 25, at the traffic signals regularly. He says he has around five to six friends who do the same job in the Lodhi Road area.

When Metrolife asks him to introduce his friends he proceeds towards the next traffic signal. At the Safdarjung Tomb signal is the entire group of boys aged 10-16 years engaged in similar activity. When we met the so called elder brother of Ramesh and his other friends they narrated a different story.

Raju, 16, a medium build guy with tucked-in white checked shirt, grey pants and tobacco-stained teeth, a little older to the other boys, says, “I came to the city to earn and it’s almost six years since I have been doing this in the streets of Delhi.”
Raju’s parents work in the fields for daily wage and he left studies after class two because he was not interested and the teacher used to beat him. Ramesh seated beside adds, “they don’t teach properly, the master leaves children in the classes and goes.”

All of them stay in a room in Lal Basti, Kotla Mubarakpur with their malik, who is from the same village near Patna. Raju says, “when our malik goes back home he gets boys for work.” The boys start their day with a cup of tea and biscuits and reach the traffic signal by 10 am, working till 8pm. For lunch they buy food from nearby vendors and at night everybody cooks together and shares the meal. At the end of the day they get a commission of Rs 12 and Rs 18 on portable chargers and kitchen cloth respectively. Some of them earn Rs 1,000 a day but still give the entire earned amount to their chief and they get Rs 200-250 daily.

The dream of a bigger, independent life and easy money probably lures them into running away from home leaving behind a safe, though a poor life. Sometimes these children come from dysfunctional families where parents are irresponsible or incapable of fending for them.

“Generally, children from poor socio-economic strata run away from homes in the hope of a better life. They are influenced by their peers or elders from their villages who work in big cities. Though they run away from their miserable surroundings but unknowingly are trapped in a cycle of poverty, juvenile delinquency and bad habits. Some suffer from child abuse in mental or physical form or sexual abuse,” says Dr Gorav Gupta, psychiatrist and director, Tulasi Healthcare.

Sometimes the parents are unknowingly fueling their desires by narrating unrealistic stories and harbouring too many expectations. “Children are unable to bear the pressure coming from parents. Unfortunately, this comes with a great amount of stress, loneliness and regret. Some of these children are so small that they cannot even return home,” adds Dr Gorav.

Though these children feel insecure, unloved and left with few options, given a chance they have a desire to study and live like a better citizen.

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