Sunday, October 12, 2014

Child labour bogey could sabotage India’s manufacturing ambitions!

Thanks to Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s Kailash Satyarthi winning the Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, perhaps the ‘child labour’ debate will be back in focus in India. My worst fear is it is coming at a time when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made the right noise about pushing manufacturing --- a much neglected area -- in the country. And there’s a distinct pattern in ‘neglecting’ the growth of manufacturing sector. It suited the western countries and their industrial giants and within India it suited the ‘traders’ who essentially thrive in the business of  ‘bis taka margin’ or 10 per cent cut!

The vision statement of commits to achieve for the country among other things an increase in manufacturing sector growth to 12-14 % per annum, increase in the share of manufacturing in the country’s Gross Domestic Product to 25% by 2022 and importantly to create 100 million additional jobs by 2022 in the manufacturing sector alone. These are quite highly ambitious targets given the background that the manufacturing sector in India, which accounts for fourth-fifth of the total output, grew a meagre 3.3 per cent in January 2010.
Along with the thrust on ‘manufacturing’, the Prime Minister’s  “skills, scale and speed” formula and ‘skilled India’ vision have really infused the much needed enthusiasm if not the hope.

Over the years the National Skill Development Policy since 2009 was only pursued as a piecemeal approach at best and in fact as a mirage. In the name of skill enhancement, people just provide theoretical training, which can well be imparted easily in our existing “white-collar job oriented” schools and colleges. As a working journalist, I can relate it very easily when I get to interact with the students of modern journalism institutes. These aspiring journos have been basically taught swimming by people who have not swam themselves!

Thus, my emphasis on oft-repeated argument in news rooms when we have to deal with post-graduate journalism certificate holders. For competency-based training, we need actual hands on experience much like a medical degree, where working in hospital is a must. A motor mechanic in your neighbourhood thus can do a much better job as against a so called certificate holder.
In some sectors especially handicrafts and cottage industries, moreover that necessary skill can come only when you have learned it at a tender age. 
This blog is not making any effort to justify child labour. But …….there are a few issues nevertheless.  

Because I did not learn driving at a young age, though driving is not a rocket science and though I have a driving license; I do not have the confidence of driving in a city like Delhi. In some ‘original cottage industry and handicrafts’ hubs from Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal; the child labour laws and NGO-ism have ultimately only harmed these sectors.
And as there have been a vacuum; who has filled in that space, albeit money-spinning space: obviously the western corporate houses. So carpet is quality carpet today in India if it has a ‘phoren’ name.
Actually, these child labour issues have been rightfully exploited by the western lobbies to suit in their interest and push if not dump their products. Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi will do a yeoman’s service if he does not disturb the future manufacturing initiatives in our country. 
The Bharat Ratna would duly await him till then.

Now that he the virtual global legitimacy of raising his ‘child labour’ bogey at the drop of a hat, he should do it more responsibly. 
The same advocates of ‘child labour’ bogey has seldom expressed concern over the western education system that we have latched on and that also adds to the agony of a modern Indian child not only mentally but also physically. The size of the school bags is only a tip of iceberg.

The quantum of so called home task a 6-7 year-old expected to churn out every week is equivalent to tasking a youngone to work in menial jobs. Here another crucial unlearning that takes place in the mind of a child is: home tasks are to be done by her parents and if there are some ‘projects and making of a collage’ is not done by her mummy; these are “purchaseable” in shops.
There’s another dichotomy. The so called western-lobby influenced jhola-wallahas (more to do with external funding than commitment) have perhaps not realized that while we tend to lampoon at a youngster’s ‘White Collar job syndrome’, we do not realize that the youngster was brought up with a curriculum that produces only white collar job seekers. There was also no protest when engineers were forced with LUCRATIVE OFFERS to work as sales men and women, simply because they were pushing American products. 

Few years back I had interviewed a woman German documentary film maker. Notwithstanding her anti-American bias, her argument that even the over-population bogey is only a US creation and that also post-Vietnam War actually carried conviction. She suggested that her experience with working with a "very poor family" in Bangladesh revealed that number of children did not matter much, what mattered was how they could be utilized for income generation. 
Nobel winner Mohammad Yunus's loan scheme in Bangladesh faced  corruption charges

Tail piece:

And about the virtues of Nobel prize winners in South Asia is actually a critical critique. Bangladesh’s Mohammad Yunus of Grameen Bank fame was embroiled in a controversy of "sucking money out of the people after giving them loans". In the words of no less than a person, Sheikh Hasina herself, "There has been no improvement in the lifestyle of the poor (in Bangladesh). They were just used as PAWNS to get more aid," she had said.


Rightly goes that old Kishore Kumar song: ‘Bachpan har gam se begana hota hae….”. More than translation, interpretation will do a good service!!


  1. its basically poverty , child labour is just one of the symtoms. when a family is so poor wht's the point of education ?? ( where one lands up jobless even after PHDs) , .. as far as nobel prize or awards are concern its more to do with making a statement ! .

  2. I support your point that stresses the need to liberate our nation from its clutches of poverty. Certainly it is not supporting child labour. It specifies that the need of the hour is to look for the means that can not only just alleviate poverty, but liberate it.