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Celebrity Interview: Aam Aadmi - Part I

Celebrity Interview: Aam Aadmi - Part I

August 20, 2010

“Whatever happened to the good ole days, when children worked in factories?” - Emo Philips

Welcome to the first edition of NRI News Network's non-celebrity talk show “Don't walk the walk, just sit and talk”. I have with me today one of the most important characters in Indian Politics – The eternally humble, perennially suffering and functionally illiterate aam aadmi in the form of a young man from the slums of Andhra Pradesh and we feel it’s an honor and privilege for him to be around here. Excerpts from the interview:

This has never been done in the history of prime time television! Good Morning aam aadmi and welcome to our show. How does it feel to be here in our studio with us?

Thank you. It is nice to sit in a sofa. I never sat in one except for that one time when I went to an A.C. movie theater. I feel a little chilly because of the A.C. Otherwise it is nice and comfortable. I also had some breakfast and hot tea after a very long time, so it is a welcome change.

I normally would have increased the temperature to make you feel more comfortable but I am wearing a Ralph Lauren suit and I tend to feel a little suffocated if it is above 18 degrees Celsius, so please bear with me.

No problem, it is much better than my leaking hut in this monsoon weather anyways.

You have been invited today because one of our junior correspondents overheard you speaking against the ban on child labor in a dingy tea shop in the country side. We thought it would be interesting to listen to your point of view. But before that, tell us about your childhood.

When I was 12 years old, my father died and my mother abandoned me and my elder brother. I started as an apprentice in a mechanical workshop with the help of my uncle where I was learning to operate the lathe machine. But soon, the govt. banned child labor and I was fired. I started working in a dhaba on the highway cleaning utensils and when I was sixteen, owner of the restaurant found someone else younger than me willing to work for 50 rupees less. So he kicked me out and I was on the street yet again. Then I tried selling small things on the street as a vendor but that did not work out. So I got married to a woman from a nearby slum and then life got better. Whenever my wife gets pregnant, my mother-in-law lets me stay at her place.

So, I always try to make my wife pregnant! You started out as an apprentice in a workshop as a child laborer. How was your experience there?

Before the strict enforcement of child labor laws, all poor children like me used to work as apprentices in the manufacturing sector. My uncle started as an apprentice when he was 12 and by the time he was 18, he knew how to operate most machines. He also learned to read machine drawings. That experience helped him get a job as skilled labor in a big factory.  He now lives quite comfortably. I wanted to be like him but I could not because factories stopped hiring children.

After being rescued from child labor, how did your life change?

It is funny the way you used the words "rescued from child labor". I wouldn’t call it rescue; I was thrown out of it. Suddenly, I was on the street with nothing to eat and no place to live. As part of rehabilitation, I was asked to attend a govt. school in which teachers rarely showed up for work!

Are you saying that a ban on child labor actually worked against you?

Yes, in a way. The ban on child labor actually took away the opportunity for people like me to learn a trade that will fetch me a respectful and skilled job. Most of us ended up working in far worse conditions working in small hotels and other businesses in the unorganized sector where the ban is not enforced strictly. I was cleaning utensils all my teens and now I do not have any skill that can get me a decent job! There are thousands like me, who’d prefer working in a factory over a dhaba!

But child labor is wrong! How can you justify it?

I am not saying child labor is good or desirable. The bottom line is that we have no other option but work. Once we're honest about that, working as an apprentice learning some trade is better in the long run than working in dhabas doing menial chores where exploitation is just as bad. Children should not work in dangerous conditions like in the fireworks or carpet industries. But when the government decided to ban child labor, it did so without any plan for rehabilitation of the affected children!

Did you ever consider education as an option to get out of poverty?

Yes, I went to school as a kid for 2 or 3 years but it was mostly for the free midday meals. When I was 11 years old, both my brother and me dropped out of school.

Why did you drop out of school?

My brother went to school for eight years. At 14 years of age, he was being taught math, geography, economics and civics etc. They may be interesting and essential to get further in school but govt. school teachers and trigonometry are unbearable on an empty stomach. Algebra and Indus valley did not seem very relevant when there is a family to support!

But don't you realize that poverty is a long term problem and it will only get worse by dropping out of school?

That is the popular perception. Poverty might look like lack of education, lack of skill, lack of awareness, lack of opportunities and hence lack of ability to make a decent living. It may be a long term condition but the consequences are immediate. Poverty is having nothing to eat for dinner. Poverty means having no medicine for your sick mother. Poverty means getting trashed by an alcoholic father. Poverty is not “a problem” to be solved; it is a constant battle for survival! Traditional school education does not fit into the scheme of things!

Education ensures stability and job security. Everyone from the UNO to the local NGOs agree that education is the only way out of poverty. You can’t deny that!

Did any of the organizations that endorse education explain what kind of education will take me out of poverty? They never mention that part of it do they? There is a government school in my neighborhood but the teacher barely shows up for work. Even if I manage to put myself through school, what am I supposed to do with a high school degree?

But education does not have to stop with high school. In fact...

Are you suggesting college? May I ask which college? Did you mean the elite govt. colleges that admit only the top 3 – 5%? Or the private universities that are way out of our reach? Were you suggesting rural govt. colleges where degrees have no value and graduates have no prospects! The whole “education is the only solution to poverty” sounds great as a concept but who is going to feed me while I attend college? There are now organizations that give IIT-JEE coaching to kids who have nothing to eat. I don’t understand that. We do not need IIT degrees. We need food, drinking water and other basic things!

The govt. is trying to promote education among the poor and there have been reports suggesting that the poor are not eager to send their children to school.Why is education not appealing?

The govt. does not have a policy to make education appealing to people like us. Like I said earlier, poverty is a bunch of immediate problems that require immediate attention and quick fixes. If education cannot provide them, then it will not be appealing. Schemes like midday meals and Right to Education act are all soft, sweet, cosmetic measures that at best impresses the media and  a few urban well-to-do people whose only exposure to rural India is through the tinted glass window of an AC train compartment! You cannot attract students with free midday meals and expect them to stay motivated till they complete college! May be schools should have a supplementary curriculum to teach vocational skills which will give us an ability to earn a meal or two on our own. There should be some sort of a positive reinforcement for us to believe that education is indeed rewarding.

Are you suggesting that the poor should have different schools?

The poor already have "different schools". They are called govt. schools. The rich and middle class children don't study there!

Coming back to child labor, do you support legalizing it at least in some sectors?

Banning something like child labor is easy. It is just curing the symptom, the disease being poverty. Fighting the disease needs a lot of planning and a series of well executed processes. No govt. is serious about implementing anything more complex than a mid-day meal scheme in high schools which is useless because with high school education, you cannot get anything done today. The ban on child labor forces us with only one option out of poverty: to go and complete college, which is out of the world given our economic status!

What do you think are the steps that need to be taken to solve this problem?

I am illiterate and I live in a slum! Are you asking me to suggest public policy? I am only here to tell you what is happening. Statistics might say that I am unemployed, but reality is I am unemployable. I am not alone, there is a whole generation of unemployable youth like me – no skill, no prospects, no future; angry, frustrated and a volatile potential for crime and violence. The media is not even aware of our existence! We are the result of half-baked politically correct public policy and sooner or later, you have to deal with us!

Thank you Mango Man, let us conclude the first part of this interview here. A lot of interesting questions were raised. I am sure more such things will come up in the next part of the interview. Until then, we sign off with this audience poll.

What is your opinion on aam aadmi’s line of argument against the ban on child labor? A. Sahi tho keh raha hai B. Ullu bana raha hai

Don’t SMS the answer, just leave it in the comments section below :)


  • Anon
    21.09.10 03:01 AM
    Of course, the 2nd part of this article clearly shows why the right party does not get elected.
  • Anon
    21.09.10 02:30 AM
    You have ignored some good things happening in AP, such as vocational training programs for women in rural areas (initiated not by congress of course), microfinance schemes, etc. Also look up the work being done by organizations such as Byrraju foundation. I agree that a lot more needs to be done.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    04.09.10 05:42 AM
    @Shruthi: Thank you for bringing back the discussion where it should have been :)
  • Shruthi
    24.08.10 06:04 PM
    Hey G2,
    good one.
    I agree with A.

    My mom is a teacher and she also complains that "Govt. forces children from slum to come to school.They only attend to have mid-day meals and abscond after that for work."

    Most of the poor people think like ur so called "AAM-ADMI"..

    I feel most of u are discussing the unnecessary part "whether the speaker is an AAM-ADMI or not"...

    I suppose,that is not the area of concern.

    Suggestions or ideas are to be discussed to make the life better for poor children,with which poor people can't think that "to go and complete college, is out of the world given our economic status!" & "ban should be lifted on Child labor".

    Plssss guys....think about this and suggest ways.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    23.08.10 07:55 PM
    @Vijay: The truth need not always be in good taste.

    @Joseph: The situation is almost the same in Andhra Pradesh... You pretty much summed up the part 2 of this article without a *spoiler alert*!
  • joseph
    23.08.10 07:24 PM
    well........pardon me for my figures.....
    but 42% was in 2005.
    i do not wish to claim that india is wealthy or anything......yet, i do doubt the authenticity of our poverty line...lemme give a crazy (yet true) statistics of my domestic help.
    my maid is paid 2000rs a month.her husband is an uneducated casual labourer .he earns 300rs a day(not EXAGGERATED).so, effectively, his family earns around 10000rs a month.
    ration card enables him rice at 2 rs a kg.
    and yeah......they are counted below the poverty line.
    IMO, the BIGGEST reason for poverty in india is
    1 he is unwillling to work
    2 he spends all his money on booze.

    kerala is witnessing an explosive increase in labourers from orissa, bihar and UP.....
    As i have said earlier, i have not been to bihar or orissa or anything......yet, there is such a shortage to find unskilled labour here....
    again.....this is my opinion....neednt be true, need not be agreed with.....
    PS: in my native place which happens to be a rural village in calicut....we hire men at 400rs a day!and yeah.....malaylees arent available to work,,,,, so most labourers are from the north( jayanths aam aadmi should get on a train soon)
    no offence mean :)
  • Vijay
    23.08.10 04:25 PM
    Unfortunately it is not funny, and it is certainly not in good taste.
    Just shows the same confused logic that politicians use to justify that they are dedicated to the welfare of the country.
    I agree with the readers who did not like it much.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    23.08.10 01:35 AM
    @Sreesha and @Arathi: Thanks a lot :)
  • Arathi
    22.08.10 10:53 PM
    Its absolutely A
    This z what it z in India a/c to me.
    Its an excellent way of expressing and explaining the situation and solutions too..
    Awesome work!
  • Sreesha
    22.08.10 08:57 PM
    Nicely done! A poignant reminder of the state our country is in with a dash of humour.
  • Sharjeel
    22.08.10 05:10 PM
    I was trying to say what Naash did, but I didnt have exact numbers. I just didnt agree with Joseph that this is not an average Indian.
  • Sakhi
    22.08.10 02:47 PM
    Great post. It was touching and yet humorous.

    And much as I hate to condone child labour, the aam aadmi convinced me. 'A' it is.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    22.08.10 04:01 AM
    @sharjeel: I did not really get what you were trying to say. I kind of agree with your definition of common man...

    @naash: I was going to make a similar comment about the magic number 20, but you did it bang on ;)

    you rock 85% of the time man :p
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    22.08.10 03:54 AM
    @deepak: Could you explain why B?

    @pgr prasad: couldn't agree more

    @gorigirl: Yes, I understand you not having an opinion about it. There are a lot of people in India who do not have a right to have an opinion about this :)
  • naash
    22.08.10 12:34 AM
    @Joseph's " 'less than 20% of indian population who are poverty ridden' "

    lol, can't stop laughing...

    (95% of the people cook up some arbitrary numbers, if they don't know the actual numbers )

    42% of India falls below the international poverty line of $1.25 (58 INR) a day... 58 Rs is not much and 42 is not less than 20.
  • flawsophy
    21.08.10 09:24 PM
    good point ... policy isn't enough, execution is everything.
  • Sharjeel
    21.08.10 08:13 PM
    @Joseph and G2
    Aam aadmi, literally translated to average man, is not someone from the middle class, but he has to more to do with half the population of India, which hangs around an especially low official poverty line.
    You take out the "abandoned by parents" part, and this picture, presented here, still doesn't change much. It is utter ignorance on our side, nothing else.
  • Gori Girl
    Gori Girl
    21.08.10 08:06 PM
    This story was the kind of thing that, as a Westerner, makes me feel uneasy. I can't imagine living like that because we're so privileged here. Many of my peers can't even understand that some children have to work or they don't eat, because they just cannot imagine that kind of grinding, desperate poverty. We have too much here, too much of everything, and so we don't have to struggle from day to day for the barest necessities and then we go around indignantly putting our own cultural mores onto other nations that do not have the same realities as we do.

    I feel that children should not have to work -- if my children had to go work to support me at their young ages it would be a horrible thing for all of us. In an ideal world no children would have to. But no children would die of starvation, curable and preventable diseases, as innocent bystanders in shootings from gang to war, or any other hard fact of real life.

    I don't even have the frame of reference to feel that I have a right to have an opinion on this matter as it's something that does not occur here. But I do understand the complexities of such a conundrum and I wish there was a solution that we could put in place before any more children die of preventable causes.
  • pgr prasad
    pgr prasad
    21.08.10 04:15 PM
    The argument sounds interesting.But aam aadmi is far better placed than a middle class fellow who refuses to call himself as aam aadmi or poor
  • deepak
    21.08.10 01:44 PM
    20.08.10 06:25 PM
    A. I agree with the Aam-aadmi.
  • Joseph
    20.08.10 06:10 PM
    Half of a and half of b.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    20.08.10 04:28 PM
    On request of Eds.

    What is your opinion on aam aadmi’s line of argument against the ban on child labor?
    A. I agree with Mango Man
    B. Mango Man is misleading us
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    20.08.10 01:04 PM
    @Joseph: Yes, he isn't the average Indian... The middle class is significantly better off... you can consider him to be an average slum dog!
  • Joseph
    20.08.10 07:52 AM
    Sadly, this reminds me of those aBsolutely pessimistic 'india today' articles...
    A thing i'd like to say is,.,,the person interviewed here seems to be from the poorest strata of he actually the aam aadmi(common man)?or does he fall in the lowest depth of the 'less than 20% of indian population who are poverty ridden' class?
    Do you think that majority of indians are abandoned by their parents and left to grow by themselves?
    Hmmm....i don't think so.....
    i do understand there are LOT of people like him out there...but i also feel that the life of the common man is significantly better than his...and that he falls in the extreemly poor category..
    Dunno,,maybe it's because i'm ignorant as i haven't been to bihar or anything.
  • The NRI
    The NRI
    20.08.10 05:37 AM
    Jayanth, very thought provoking.

    I wonder if you could translate the voting options in English for our ever growing, non-Hindi speaking audience.

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