What comes to our mind when someone talks about child labour and bondage? Mud-soaked kids with innocent eyes and malnutritioned bodies. What do we do to improve their conditions? Practically nothing except condemning the impractical government policies. But there is this one woman who will change everyone’s approach about the same.
Padma Shree awardee Shantha Sinha, a professor, an activist and the founder of Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF). A lady, calm and compassionate but at the same time fierce and outspoken in her own ways, spent over 30 years working to end child labour and fight for their rights.
The journey of her endless fight:
Born on January 7, 1950, in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh in an upper-class Brahmin family being the only girl among seven siblings. She got her master’s degree in Political Science from Osmania University, Hyderabad and later went to Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi to pursue her PhD in Naxalite Movement in Andhra Pradesh.
She came back and joined Osmania University as a lecturer by the time she was already married and had two daughters. But the death of her husband brought difficulties in her life, being a single parent she had to earn and take care of her children simultaneously.
The changing direction:
In 1984, she had to do a course on rural politics in India in the University and so visited a village which she continued as a part of the project. She also applied for a project called Shramik Vidyapeeth by the central government.
She started meeting Dalit and bonded labourer families, mobilised support and In the process found out the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. Taking them to the labour court, calculating how much of wage they should have actually got, getting compensation for the farmers, organizing women for bare minimum wages became a part of her life.
She realised, about 40% of the bonded labour is constituted by children and was determined to stop this abuse but her term at the Shramik Vidyapeeth ended and that’s when she started her family trust Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation which works for the betterment of children who have no voice and are exploited in hazardous jobs, providing scholarships for higher education.
Over a period of 20 years in MVF, there have been at least 60,000 students who got into mainstream education through this camp. And until today Over 1 million children have been freed from indentured labour and enrolled in school. Also, 168 villages are now child labour free.
“When we withdrew 10 lakh people from the work, we resolved 10 lakh conflicts, as there is conflict in everything. It’s only when there is a conflict, there is a dialogue, discussion, consensus that children have to go to school,” she said but her Gandhian approach and endless patience made her trust a huge success.
For her years of old dedication and hard work, Shantha was awarded the Padma Shri, in 1998, given the Albert Shanker International Award from Education International and the Magsaysay Award in 2003.
It’s because of her influence that the government passed the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act in December 2005, which created the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
Her incredible work in the field of social service and education illuminated lakhs of lives and she continues to inspire the world with her humanitarian attributes.