“My father dropped me to my first workplace. I could never tell him how much I wanted him to drop me to a school instead,” says Mohsin, who is struggling to go to school and dreams of a better life.
Rajasthan accounts for nearly 10% of the total child labour in the country, with Jaipur alone having more than 50,000 child labourers in the age group of 5-14 years. The state stands third after UP and Andhra Pradesh as far as child labour is concerned.
“Bhatta basti in Jaipur is notorious for child labourers who work on lac bangles within their households. Most of the adult members are either working on making jewellery or are unskilled labour. Substance abuse among children and adolescents is high. Dropouts are common as children become workers early on in life,” says Magic Bus’ Neelima, who is in charge of the programme here.
Bhatta basti looks a bit different from the shanties that dot the landscape of mega cities like Delhi or Mumbai: there are rows of pucca houses here –- with exposed red bricks and high ceilings. However, many houses have no roof at all. An open drain underlines the sorry state of hygiene in the area. People who call Bhatta Basti home are largely from a single community, engaged in bangle-making, stone-cutting, or tailoring.
In the meandering narrow lanes of Bhatta basti that run along a partially hilly landscape, lives a 19-year-old whose story deserved to be told.
“Which class are you in?” Chances are, almost all of us have been asked this question at least once, or sometimes more than once, during our lifetimes. For Mohsin Farukhi, this is a question he has carefully avoided since he was 13 and stopped going to school.
“My father worked as a stone-cutter in a nearby shop. My elder brother joined him after he finished his seventh standard because we were in desperate need of money. My younger brother failed in the eighth standard and started work at a local watch repair shop. My father stopped going to work once both my brothers started earning. When they got married and had their own children, they could barely spare any money to support the family. This is why my parents started putting pressure on me to start working,” explains Mohsin.
Consequently, he dropped out in Class 7 and started assisting in a shoe shop where he was paid Rs 5 for working 12 hours in a day.
“My father dropped me to my first workplace. I could never tell him how much I wanted him to drop me to a school instead,” Mohsin looks away as he shares the memories of his first day at work.
He didn’t stick to his first job for long. He soon made friends in the neighbouring stores and found a different place to work, with better pay.
“I realised one thing: there are always jobs available for children like us because we can be paid less and made to work more.”
While Mohsin worked for longer hours in jobs that did not interest him, his father started working as a priest (locally called mohzim) in a dargah. His mother is a homemaker.
Three years ago, Mohsin came for one of Magic Bus’ sessions. He was 16 then. Having never had the time to be with children his age, Mohsin took a strong liking to the activity-based sessions.
“The person leading the session sat us down in a circle and asked how many of us went to school. I saw several hands in the air, and ran away in embarrassment,” he recounts.
Sarfaraz, who was conducting the session that day, saw Mohsin leave in a hurry and decided to find out more about him. He called on him the next day when he was leaving for work. Mohsin confided in him his eagerness to learn.
“If you want to go to school, who is stopping you?” Sarfaraz asked. Mohsin explained his situation. That day, Sarfaraz left Mohsin with a hope, “You can still study. I will help you get re-enrolled.” The support he was looking for within his family came to him in the form of a mentor he could trust.
When Sarfaraz spoke to Mohsin’s parents, he found out about the abject condition they were in. Sarfaraz approached an NGO and mobilised funds for Mohsin’s education. Mohsin negotiated with his father to allow him to go back to school in return for working to support the family.
After being out of school for three years, Mohsin went back to school. He enrolled in Class 10 in a private school.But Mohsin’s challenges were far from over.
“I found the lessons difficult. After all these years, I found it difficult to concentrate. It was exhausting to work and study simultaneously,” he shares.
Unfortunately, he failed the Class 10 examination.
“His parents persuaded him to discontinue education. They didn’t think it was a worthy investment. But Mohsin persisted in his attempts. And of course, we stood by his decision,” says Sarfaraz.
Today, Mohsin has completed Class 12. He aspires to become a nurse because getting an MBBS degree would be too expensive for him.
“I am, by far, the most educated in my family. My parents never went to school and my brothers dropped out. I don’t want to stop here. I want to study further and work in dignity,” he shares.
Regardless of where his final destination is, Mohsin can inspire every single person who wants to learn.