Each one of us has gone through the anguish of having to witness children begging at traffic lights. Their eyes are filled with hopes shrouded by misery and helplessness. In between these 60 seconds of glimpse into violated lives, we take out a coin from our pocket to give it to them. That coin is allegoric to the pity that brims our heart for these children. But with this act, we comfort ourselves that we did our share for them.
In this case, we turn ourselves emotionally blind, to refuse innately to work for them. Thinking that apart from giving that coin, there is nothing we are capable of, or can do to bring long-term change.
But yes, each one of us has felt this desirous need to help them. That they are deprived of opportunities and comfort and education. That their rights are being violated and poverty has obliterated their lives.
Each one of us has also been through numerous instances of witnessing child labor and abuse. Young boys working at tea-stalls, young girls working as house-maids. We turn our eyes away from this bitter truth. Child abuse is not physical exploitation alone, but exploitation of the rights of these children to live a happy childhood, to be able to go to school. So every time we are direct or indirect employers, we are responsible for child labor and abuse.
I’ve been through both of these cases. I’ve stopped at traffic lights whereby I’d flick some money from my pocket. I’ve been guilty of eating at places where a “chotu” served me my food.
Each instance would enrage me as to why I, on one hand, had enjoyed opportunities of comfort and education, while many other children, go without a roof to sleep, without a penny in their pocket or morsel of food in their mouth, without education to fulfill their dreams.
A famous quote says, “the biggest problem is that we do not think there is a problem.”
I wanted to show everyone how disturbing the truth is – how tomorrow’s India is sleeping on streets. These children who we call the future of India, are being devoid of opportunities for education. It is an issue that impedes a developed India, and more importantly, an issue of grave concern on humanitarian grounds. Where every citizen should have been a changemaker in the country, each one of them has turned a blind eye to the issue, whilst taking our own comforted lives and privilges for granted.
Knowing only hindi, and having stayed in Bengal for last four years during my college education, I tried to teach children in villages, however, I’ve not been so successful at it, realizing my shortcomings due to the communication gap. At the same time, I recognized my potential to be able to construct stories and stir emotion through pictures, which spoke to all people of all languages alike. In turn, I was associated with CRY chapter at my college, where I took different initiatives of awareness campaigns through pictures and social media. As a consequence of the persistent efforts by CRY at my college, child labour which was a menace in the college canteens, has been banned.
After this successful initiative, I did not want to stop there, but reach out to more people who have simply turned a blind eye. Every bit I could do, and whichever way I could, I wanted to put my efforts into it.
In the meanwhile, I had also developed a strong fascination for testing my physical and mental limits through running and cycling. People such as Terry Fox (an amputee who ran across Canada for raising funds for Cancer), and Lance Armstrong (who completed Tour De France overcoming Cancer) inspired me. Thankfully, yet again, I’ve been given the physical ability to run, walk, and do things I like. Many people again take all these things for granted.
After completing a full marathon, and several cycling rides, and having started all these only in November 2013, I was zealous to fulfill my hunger for peace within myself – this peace could only emanate from the knowledge that I had put all my efforts, pushed myself to the extremes and done something worthwhile for the cause I believed in.
This is how the cross country Kolkata to Mumbai 2500 KM Cycle journey came about. People would call me ‘mad’, call the task ‘impossible’, show the shortcomings of me not being a ‘trained athlete’. But I was determined, and the fact that I was just an ordinary guy was not a hindrance, but a motivation to me. That if I can do something like this, so can you, so can everyone. And by efforts, I do not want everyone to put in a herculean effort of doing the same thing, but that every one counted as our nation’s youth should put all efforts they could, all dedication with all determination into the society.
From the cycling trip, I was able to raise funds, cover several stories and raise awareness in not only the places I visited, but also through media, and word-of-mouth. What everyone saw as an extraordinary feat, to me was a challenge that I had to complete being just an ordinary guy, just so that everyone who constricts their efforts and puts limitations to his or her own self, can understand that there are no bounds to human potential and our ability to bring about change.
It was a change within me on several levels and phases. Through the times where sweat beads would flow from our brows to our chins through the grueling day of 45 centigrade summer heat and cycling effort, to the times where we would greeted by hospitable locals and children who resonated excitement and enthusiasm in our efforts; I enjoyed everything alike. The diverse terrain and people were enchanting and so incredible, that I was always energetic to keep pushing every day. At the same time, I would witness the different and diverse issues regarding child rights plaguing the society, each place infested with its own typical problems – from lack of teacher attendance in schools and ineffective implementation of MDM, to lack of opportunities, grave poverty and child labor and abuse among underprivileged sections of the society. All these prodded me to keep moving with more ardor and zeal, to really bring about a change in such an abysmal state of affair.
Now at the end of the trip, my mind wanders, to questions like did I bring about a change, to answers that each one of us has to unitedly stand up and fight for a developed country. And while my mind wanders, my heart is back to yearning for the peace again, the peace I found doing something worthwhile for someone else, for a cause I believed in, for a better country. It is an effort that should never stop, it is a spirit that should never die, and it is a goal we should not stop before we reach it.
Ujjawal Chauhan, CRY volunteer, Kolkata