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A shot at reality and a brush with their life

“None of the children were laughing or chatting; they all just kept on working, almost like adults in their expressions and concentration. When I smiled at them, none of them responded. They just seemed angry. Even at that age, they were well-acquainted with the harsh realities of life.”

This was an entry in 17-year-old Nirajana Adhya’s diary; just one of the observations the student of Modern High School made during her visit to a sewing and embroidery workshop at Garden Reach, which employs children.

A group of about 15 school kids attended a week-long workshop on black-and-white photography at Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre in December. Held in association with Save the Children Fund, the focus was child labour. The images are now on display at an exhibition at Seagull. So, the kids from “privileged backgrounds” roamed around the tanneries in Topsia, Tangra, Tiljala and Motijheel.

Tavleen Kaul, a Class XI student at JD Birla, says: “I have learnt to appreciate what I have. I had never before thought about the living conditions of these children. I was amazed at how dirty and narrow the streets at Tangra were, and the fact that they had nothing and yet never complained. And we whine over such inconsequential things.”

Kaushik, 12, from St Xavier’s School, however, shyly pronounces that he has learnt to be patient from the children he interacted with. “One boy I met said he likes to make rockets, but he works and so doesn’t have much time. There were children who worked in the tanneries, at roadside stalls, dosa joints, sewing, bangle-making… We formed an action plan to collect things like medicines, books and clothes, which we then donated to these children.”

The young participants were unanimous about the fact that the subjects of their images were more than happy to comply, smiling and posing for the cameras, and demonstrating their skills. “I realised that they need a little affection and attention,” observes Yashodhara Ghosh, 16, of Modern High. “They were so happy to see us and excited about the prospect that we wanted to take their pictures.”

An entry in the diary of 15-year-old Karan Malhotra, a student of La Martiniere for Boys, about his visit to the Motijheel tanneries reads: “A small lane turning into a very narrow alley and yet another room filled with leather and sewing machines. The man who seemed to be the owner said that he did not employ any children. Then I climbed up the stairs and found a group of children working.”

This is child labour pictured through children’s eyes.

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