Every year, hundreds of children from remote villages in the country move to urban areas in search of better livelihood, some as young as five. Among city folk, helpers at home are more to do with augmenting social standings, as if to appear endowed abundantly and not having to bother about menial tasks.
Back home, things aren’t too different. I am from a small town in Northeast India, where every household has at least one minor helper to run their errands. They are enrolled in government schools to make their penury appear to have a brighter side, but on most days, they are kept from attending. Instead, chores are made to be their priority.
It is well known that whether it is the impact of poverty, illiteracy or malnutrition, it is the poor who suffer the most. I once came across a five-year-old boy who stays in a government official’s residence to take care of the owner’s two-year old son. It made me wonder how happy and secure that young boy must be, to be staying in someone else’s house – at least his troubles are now behind him.
I asked the owner why he had kept such a small boy who doesn’t even understand their local dialect. He was adamant to defend his stance, insisting that the boy’s life was better since he gets two square meals a day and attends a school nearby, which was a far cry in his native village.
He goes to school for four hours, but on days when the owner’s son needs tending to, his schooling isn’t on top of the priority list. He ate leftovers and his utensils were separate. He’s up before them every morning and is the last to sleep after the chores are taken care of.
For the owner, it was not so big a deal. It disturbed my conscience, to see a boy away from home, and staying in someone’s house as a helper. I asked him if he ever wished to go back home. He smiled and replied that back home, his meals are uncertain. The circumstances he endured here, are in lieu of alleviating one problem that he won’t have to tackle – hunger.
With a heavy heart, I rushed back home. I settled in with the family for dinner, served by the minor helper who was tending to us. He served our dinner and then went on to clean the soiled utensils, before having his own dinner and retiring for the day. I reasoned that perhaps we are better when it comes to handling our helper since we don’t impose as unreasonably as the government official.
A good few years later, I realized how naive it was for me to look upon that gentleman with disdain, for doing the same thing that we do, albeit a little differently. The circumstances surrounding such arrangements are almost always alike. We are wired to have the illusion as if we are aiding someone else, whereas it is ourselves we are tending to.
Poverty, social circumstances and government apathy are the reasons we cite while analyzing such inequalities. In the end, it boils down to us being complicit in aiding such habits. In retrospect, a few years wiser and with much to my experience, I would have done things differently back then. But that ship has sailed, the boy is no longer our helper, and definitely no longer a minor. His schooling days are gone, as are the dreams he saw for himself. And in being complicit, we stand by and watch a million dreams being given up to pander to our domestic requirements, just as his were washed away with each passing day.
Meyeinla is a former journalist with a passion for anti-Human Trafficking efforts.