It was a chance encounter, she was just doing her work, like everyday. I was out of place, went there to witness the life people lead in the outskirts of the city of Mumbai. The area is called Karjat. It is a part of the Mumbai Metropolitan City, a city where I live as well, a city full of vast disparities.
It was here, in a village called Tamnath Wadi, that I met her as she went about her day’s responsibilities, she smiled when I asked her if I could take her picture. I thought perhaps she would stop and pose for a second but she went about her work as though I wasn’t there at all. She was quick on her feet as she moved from one brick to another with ease and strength.
What’s your name?
“My name is Sudha Rani.”
How old are you?
“I am thirteen years old.”
Where do you live?
What are you doing here in Mumbai?
“Working, we stay here for 6 months in a year, we are here for two more months.”
We? Who are you with?
“My parents and my brothers and sisters.”
How many siblings do you have?
“I have 4 siblings. One brother and two younger sisters.”
Where are your siblings?
“My brother is here (Points to boy working with her) and my younger siblings must be here somewhere.”
Are they in school?
“No, they don’t go to school.”
Do you go to school?
“I don’t go to school.”
“I work, we need money, so I don’t go to school.”
How much money do you get for this work here?
“We are 4 people working, my parents, my brother and I. So we get Rs 2000 (USD 29.1) total for one days work.”
And how long do you work for?
“I start work at 1 in the morning, and work till afternoon for the first shift. In the second shift, we work from afternoon till sunset.”
Do you do only pick up bricks in the entire shift?
“In the second shift, yes, we only have this work. But in the morning shift we make the mixture for the bricks.”
How much does each brick weigh?
“I don’t know (smiles). It’s not that heavy.”
Although she said that it wasn’t heavy, I noticed that her small hands were covered with calluses. It was not my place to probe further as to why she is working when The Government of India provides for free and compulsory education for all children from the age of 6 to 14 under the Right to Education Act. I met her parents as well, they were taking a small break from work at the time, they pointed to the place they call home for the 6 months every year. It was a makeshift slum house in the village.
As I left and walked back towards the bus we rented as transport, I wondered how many more children there are in India, over-worked, under-paid and losing out on primary education. How many children are not getting a chance to experience childhood? How many truly believe that they do not have any other choice but to work endlessly for a meagre amount of money? How many do not think or even know that going to school at that age is essential? How many future generations are destined for this life?
I get shivers by just asking these questions.