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Due to the lockdown and the lack of thought for migrant workers, thousands have walked all the way to their homes. One of them, was little Jamalo.
The sweet sounds of the chirping birds and the squirrels made Jamalo’s day exciting. But it also turned out to the same day when she would have to wake up and do her bit in chores and then set off for work.
It had been a few months since she came here from her hometown in Chattisgarh. Jamalo Madkam, 12 years old had been parted from her parents on account of poverty and to work as a support to her family. Yes, she was sent to the chilli fields to work and earn.
Let me rephrase this…Jamalo was a child, a child labourer, perhaps bonded labour (I am not sure yet but the chances are very likely) and achieved the status of migrant worker. That sounds so disturbing.
Every day Jamalo works on the farm and earns her every meal and helps her impoverished parents so many miles away. Jamalo has shoulders which are 12 years old so she was now given the burden of toiling in the farms for survival.
A few days ago, she saw a young woman who came to visit the farm. She looked so different. She was wearing clothes that Jamalo was not even aware of. She looked dynamic and brave and she talked differently. She was riding a vehicle. Some said she was a doctor. Jamalo wondered what the woman had done to be like this. Jamalo might have wanted to study but even before the word ‘education’ got to her, she had been sent to pick chillies. Now chillies are her life and food in a way.
She can smell chillies. In fact she knows how to differentiate between the chillies, flowers, buds, ripe ones, suitable for consumption and all. Sometimes she plays with the chillies that are thrown away. But all the chillies are pungent. To her I believe, they stink.
That day, she woke up as usual and left for work. There was a strange announcement that they made. So strange. Since her parents were miles afar, she was supposed to make the journey on her own with the other workers. They said it could take many days, or even months. Without wages, and without any way to pay for her basic needs, how would little Jamalo pay for rent and food and all…so she decided to hop on, not because she understood the situation but because she was finally going to her Ma.
She did not know what the path or the mode of transport would be like. And she did not care. At last her silent tears of all the nights had come to her rescue. Now she could go to school and play as she wished. She could learn to bicycle. Perhaps she would even be allowed to eat mangoes. Ma would be there.
Jamalo packed her little case for travel and set out with the others. Her tender feet were not used to walking beyond a kilometre or two at a stretch. But it was not one or two, this was a journey beyond 100 kms. All Jamalo knew was this. Continuous trekking. It seemed like she was amidst an ocean. Surrounded by forests. Sharp pebbles, rocks, thorns. And all the way, the scorching heat. She walked anyway. Because she was going to be with her Ma.
There was no voice left in her. She walked and walked and walked. The migrant workers crossed the border of their home state and hoped they would reach their homes soon. There was no food and water for miles. But they did not lose hope. They were now in their territory and had crossed the worst.
Jamalo did not understand anything. She was dehydrated and exhausted. Only the face of her Ma was dragging her all the way. It was another 11 kms to her hometown. Jamalo felt uneasy and wondered why the earth was doing a circus. She was fine after all. The earth was crazy, doing rounds around her. The sun was a fool scorching the humans who worshipped him. The people were cruel. The chillies stank of course.
Jamalo Madkam, aged 12, traveled over 100 kms, walking all the way from Telangana to Chattisgarh during lockdown. The child died when it was only 11kms left to reach her home. The death of Jamalo has exposed the lives of children in the unorganised sector, the misuse of the loopholes in the Child Labour Prohibition Act, and the existence of forced, bonded labor.
Jamalo had dreams of joy. The dreams had the colours of all the colours of chillies. The dreams are also dead now. There are several Jamalos in our country with dreams and voiceless lives. Their livelihoods are born with them. Their births and deaths are alike. No wonder there are millions of missing women.
Image credits Meena Kadri, used via Flickr under a Creative Commons 2.0 license; used for representational purposes only
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