Blood in your mouth

If you are a foodie and love Indian street food, here is a simple trivia

“What is poked, dipped and served, that is crunched, slurped and munched?”

If you answered “Paani Puri”, you are right! ………Good going.

Now, let me ask you another question –

What are the various flavors in which this dish is served?

If you answered “Sweet & Hot” or even “Spicy & Sour” you are wrong!

Because you missed out the most popular flavor – SWEAT & BLOOD!

Surprised? Shocked? Disgusted? Read on…

The time is 3am.

The dimly lit streets of Bangalore’s market area wear a deserted look. The thick December mist adds to the gloom.  The shop owners are perhaps fast asleep, tucked in their beds, resting well.  It would be many hours before they open wide their doors to entice customers from all over the city, nation and the world who flood these narrow streets to grab the best bargains every single day.

Even as sellers and buyers snore under their sheets, a faint noise is heard down the street.  A dimly lit room on the first floor of a dilapidated building is buzzing with activity. A narrow wooden stairway leads to a dingy, cramped room hardly four feet wide. Four little boys aged about 14, 12, 10 and 7 are busy working in the room which happens to be a kitchen and also their hostel.

One boy stirs a large iron vessel in which potatoes are being cooked, another is busy cutting onions. The youngest in the team, Chotu (name changed) rolls little balls of dough with his soft hands, which will later be fried to make crispy little balls (Puris). The boys work 14-16 hours every day to make hundreds of little puris which are later sold to several chaat vendors all around the market area.

Chotu handles the balls with care as they need to be of the same size; after they are fried to crispy little balls, he is the chosen one to pack them carefully in large plastic bags. Little boys like Chotu are chosen for this job as their small, soft hands are best suited to make the fragile crispy balls or puris.

Chotu bends over the large plate where he places the small patches with great care, sweat dripping from his shirtless torso, deeply engrossed in his job. He understands that every spot that is out of shape or every crack in the fried ball would not be counted against his daily tally, but they sure would be counted by his supervisor to determine the number of lashings that would be laid on his bare back for being sloppy.

Child labor is rampant in metropolitan cities like Bangalore, but often hidden and covered in the most unsuspecting places and enterprises. One such is in the making of Paani Puri, a popular street food.

Little boys from Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh are trafficked by middlemen who pay a small sum of Rs 5000 (which is a large sum of money for poor, illiterate families in interior villages) to poor parents, promising a job for their uneducated children in large cities. The children are then whisked away in a well-organized manner to large cities where they are bonded as laborers in such unorganized sectors. The poor parents often don’t receive any money while the little boys are tricked into believing that their parents are being paid each month. They toil 14-16 hours a day with no pay and meagre meals (often the leftovers of boiled peas, potato used in making the stuffing for paani puris).

Chotu was saved in one of the sweep operations carried out by the Bangalore police in which several hideout kitchens were raided. Children rescued were sent back to their villages. The middlemen were arrested but not many owners who run these illegal establishments were arrested. Even the ones who faced trial were not successfully convicted as many practical challenges plague proceedings in such cases as rescued children need to be presented in the local court as witnesses.

In Chotu’s case a few NGOs, after many months of searching traced three boys (who were rescued along with him in Bangalore) in a remote village in Bihar but little Chotu could not be traced. Later, the sad news of his demise reached them. Apparently, Chotu had died a few months after being rescued and repatriated to his village. Whether he died of sickness, poverty or simply unable to bear the trauma of bondage is hard to conclude. But one thing is certain, this little life was snuffed out early – poked, dipped and served by in-human traffickers; crunched, slurped and munched by insensitive consumers.

The next time you pause on a busy street to pop those crunchy globules into your mouth watch out! You may have just gobbled up the childhood of a poor little child for good.

End Child Labor ….Now!

For any suspicious activity involving children – Call the toll free number 1098

By Bhaskar Venugopal


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