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Bloomed in one place, transplanted and now drying up with no roots!

“Why should I learn Tamil? Suppose I happen to go back to Bihar, Tamil will be of no use. Teach me in Bihari language! I will learn it! Otherwise, leave me in peace... I will earn a living by working in a banian company. Don’t refer to me as a child labourer.”

These are the words of Rohan, a nine-year-old boy from Bihar living in Tiruppur. When SAVE volunteers asked him to enrol in the Bridge School, he became sceptical and questioned them.

child laborOn average, 100 children in every ward are not attending school and can be found idle on the streets. Taking into account that Tiruppur has 60 wards, this amounts to an estimated 6,000 children that are not enrolled in school!

When one thinks of the concept of migration, it is mostly related to movements as a result of war or severe environmental and climatic conditions. However, economic migration – i.e. the decision to migrant in order to improve one’s standard of living by gaining a better-paid job – is one of the significant migration patterns bringing persons to Tiruppur. Approximately 40% of Tiruppur’s population are migrants, the vast majority of whom are economic migrants. The migrants predominantly originate from the states of West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand. Most of the migrants are Dalits who are deemed to be at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. Among them, 70-80% are youngsters who migrant alone; and 20% are families (most of whom migrate with young children). It must be noted that adolescent girls are often left in the care of elders in the places of origin for reasons concerning safety.

Push factors from the major source states mentioned above include unemployment, low paying jobs and caste discrimination, to name a few. Migrants to Tiruppur reveal that jobs in Tiruppur garment factories allow them to earn a higher salary than they would in their places of origin, and their caste allocation is not a barrier to accessing a job.

Despite the comparatively high standard of living migrant workers enjoy in Tiruppur, one area that they neglect to improve is their children’s education. In this lacuna, SAVE, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Tiruppur, has been reaching out to migrant children and enrolling them into Bridge Schools. Bridge Schools are learning centres that provide remedial education to children that have been out of school and who require specialised attention before they can re-enter the mainstream education system. Through the National Child Labour Project, SAVE is enrolling migrant children in Tiruppur between the ages of nine to 14 years and it does along with siblings in its Bridge Schools.

After completion of the Bridge School curriculum, there are difficulties in admitting migrant children into mainstream schools, especially into government schools. The reason is that the children are not proficient in the Tamil language and there is no corresponding syllabus in Hindi. Teachers are facing challenges to instruct migrant children due to this language barrier. The language barrier causes children to remain out of mainstream schooling. Children who are not in school tend to roam the streets or take up employment in garment companies.

“I come from West Bengal. I had studied up to the 8th grade. When I arrived in Tiruppur, I was admitted into a Bridge School. All kinds of children, regardless of age, sat together in one class. I need a 9th grade education. I do not need the lessons of 5th, 6th and 7th grades,” says Kappar Singh.

Kappar Singh’s parents migrated to Tiruppur in search of employment, but unfortunately, Kappar Singh was not enrolled in a local school. Since he was not attending school, Kappar Singh thought of becoming employed in one of the garment companies. He is unaware of his right to an education and mainly his rights under the ‘Right to Education Act’. Kappar Singh’s situation is not unique.

There is no scheme in government to ensure that migrant children are enrolled in schools in their new communities. Neither are there enough funds to support the operation of Bridge Schools to aid children such as Kappar Singh. Moreover, the garment industry in Tiruppur does not care to take a stand in the fight to guarantee an education to migrant children.

Asha Desi (7 years), from Assam, said, “I want to learn in my mother tongue. How will learning in Tamil benefit me?” Children from Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal who have also asked to be educated in their mother tongue have echoed her sentiments.

Parents have shown little commitment to see that their children are enrolled in school. One parent has said, “We are going to stay here [Tiruppur] for five or six months, then go back home.” Though they may return to their places of origin, sometimes this return is only temporary. When the parents return once again with their children, the situation of non-enrollment is repeated. Nevertheless, there are parents who are willing to provide basic education for their children but encounter obstacles in doing so. To add to the problem, the parents are embarrassed to ask for help or lack the necessary knowledge on where to seek help.

Migrant children who are not attending school face alienation. They are unable to speak Tamil and are deemed ‘ruffians’ by the local population who see them as a burden. Some children are reported to the police station for minor infractions. It is believed that with counselling, migrant children can better integrate themselves into their local communities. SAVE, and other social organisations remain committed to ensuring that migrant children are enrolled in schools. All children not enrolled in school, whether they are employed or remain at home, are considered child labourers.

These children needed counselling. Perhaps all these children are educated by the teachers of their own languages, then there is a possibility of joining the school. The campus of the school will be in favour of them. Separating them in the community is not good.

During the past 1990s, the population of child labour was about a lakh in Tiruppur. However, because of the compulsory education by the government and the child labour ban, this was almost abolished in the export business, it becomes under control. In these circumstances, migrant children are becoming child labourers. If they are out of school at home, they are also called child labour.

The children may tear the textbooks because of some mischievous habit. But, here the children are torn into pieces due to the lack of textbooks. So, the child labour problem has become once again in the name of migrant children. Again, this may be considered as another form of refugees.

Written by Subrabharathi Manian

Translated by P. Ramgopal

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