Girls in Ranchi take a step against child labour on Wednesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
New Delhi, June 12: Gangotri Kumari (14), tortured maid-turned-school head girl, knows she is lucky to have reclaimed her life.
From a starving maidservant in a New Delhi flat to a seventh grader in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya in Gumla, the past 15 months have been a complete turnaround for 14-year-old Gangotri.
The tribal girl, with another rescued child labourer —Shibu Singh from Murshidabad, Bengal — were the two key speakers today at an event hosted by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), International Labour Organisation and Unicef to mark World Day Against Child Labour.
Speaking at the podium before an impressive gathering, including Union minister of state for women and child development Krishna Tirath, the girl recounted her six months of living hell as a live-in maidservant. The well-off doctor couple whom she worked for, thrashed and starved her. Then, they locked her up and went holidaying in Thailand.
Four days after being locked up in the Dwarka flat, on March 29, 2012, security guards and neighbours heard a hungry Gangotri’s desperate cries from the balcony. They alerted the police and NGO Shaktivahini. The girl, rescued by firefighters, was malnourished, petrified and bore telltale bruises on her frail body.
Immediately, then 13-year-old Gangotri drew widespread and global media attention, becoming a symbol of India’s exploitative child labour.
Today, her confident articulation was a far cry from the whimpers that had jolted a nation. Gangotri has survived her ordeal but her memories linger. “I remember my days as a maidservant in Delhi as a nightmare no girl should suffer. My employers inflicted on me constant mental and physical pain. I had almost lost hope. In the end I emerged lucky,” the girl said.
Her employers Sanjay and Sumita Verma were arrested but later got bail.
Gangotri also articulated clearly the connect between human trafficking and poverty. “I now regret my decision to run to Delhi to find work. I was a student but my family’s financial condition was so bad that I thought I should help my poor parents. So when a boy living near my house promised me a job in Delhi I readily agreed. What unfolded here was a nightmare,” she said.
Casting light on the social evil, she said: “Thankfully I came out of it soon, but there are thousands who are not lucky. I feel sorry for them.”
The girl added: “I have now realised the importance of education. It’s our only ticket to a better life. I try to focus on studies and do well in my class. In my Class VI annual examination I stood third in class. I am now the head girl.”
Adding that she often told her fellow students not to succumb to big city temptations and to study hard, Gangotri stepped down to thunderous applause.