I met little Meena during my project visit to a village called Kuppannoor at Salem. Female foeticide, bonded labour, child labour, child marriage, untouchability- you name it, the village has everything.
I do not remember when Meena started holding my hand. I stayed in that village with my team for about 5 hours and she did not leave my hand even for a minute. My hands were profusely sweating and the little girl was wiping it with her soiled dress, then clutching to it as if she never wanted to leave it.
When she was convinced that I would not leave her soon, she asked me in Tamil “ Nan ungale akkannnu koopidalama” (“Can I call you Akka?” Akka is sister in Tamil). Overwhelmed with emotion, I told her “Yes, dear”.
She was one among those many underprivileged children in the village who were denied education. Belonging to a bonded labour family, there is a huge chance that either she might end up being a child labour or could be a child bride. But on that day, she was not aware of what is in store for her. I cannot ever forget her smile and those big eyes with hope.
Meena, you will always be in my prayers.
Shockingly, some grandmothers in the village were just 33 years old. Besides, many had been forced to undergo female foeticide.
The dalits of this village belongs to the Arundhatiyar community, considered as the most inferior group among dalits. Majority of them are under bonded labour for a meagre monthly salary of Rs 300 for many years. For outside world, they were untouchables, but I assure you, they make the best tea and will serve it you with lots of love.
The children at Ponmalai nagar village again amazed me. Sans any facilities, they were a bundle of talent. If given facilities, they could challenge any privileged child.
My note would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Jayam who have started bringing real change into this downtrodden community. Through her, the community has already started witnessing change.
– Shalet Jimmy
(Shalet Jimmy works with the Media Advocacy team at CRY – Child Rights and You and has recounted her experience of her visit to Salem People’s Trust in Salem, Tamil Nadu. Read about how CRY and SPT have been working to ensure lasting change in the lives of these children here.)