A cycle odyssey to Pakistan - to end child labour

November 10th, 2008 - 10:46 am ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Nov 10 (IANS) At a tender age of five, Gaja was sold by his poor parents for Rs.500 to spend his life as a bonded labour. Now 10, Gaja is pedalling across India to reach Lahore with over 25 other Indian youngsters with a plea to completely eradicate child labour and also work for peace between India and Pakistan.The 2,869-km journey to Lahore began in Bangalore Nov 1 and will pass through several cities including Dharwad in north Karnataka, Mumbai, Gujarat capital Gandhinagar, Delhi, Amritsar and end at Saiwal, Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s birthplace, 200 km from Lahore.

Named ‘Peacebycycle’, the expedition will take about 30 days to cover the distance.

The expedition is an initiative by Bangalore-based school for underprivileged children, Bornfree Art School International (BASI), to raise awareness among the people of the two neighbouring countries about the scourge of child labour and importance of world peace. A Japanese theatre director and an Australian along with a Briton assisting BASI are part of the trip.

Ask the brave hearts what made them take up the arduous task, they reacted - “to completely eradicate child labour and bring world peace”.

“We rescued Gaja almost a year back from the streets of Bangalore, after he was abandoned by his master. Since then he has been part of our school and progressing well, both in his studies and various artistic activities,” sculptor John Devraj, who is the artistic director of BASI, told IANS over phone from Dharwad, some 420 km north of Bangalore. The cyclists reached Dharwad last week after almost six days of journey.

“Through this expedition we will attempt to bring awareness among the masses that practising child labour is a crime and poor children too have the right to have a normal childhood and access to education,” Devraj said.

It has been more than two years since child labour was banned in India. But the practice is still on, under the very nose of the law.

The notification on prohibition of employment of children as domestic help and in restaurants or roadside ‘dhabas’ (eateries) came into effect Oct 10, 2006. Violators face a jail term up to two years and a fine of Rs.20,000 (about $420).

According to child rights activists, India currently has around 50 million child labourers.

“I am happy to be a part of the effort. I want all children to get their education, food, clothing and shelter. I have spent several years of life in penury and worked hard to earn my bread. I hope no more children are forced to work,” said Gaja, before the start of the expedition.

The expedition is moving at a pace of around 80 km a day. On their way, the participants visit nearby schools and localities and stage plays to spread the message of love and peace.

“Shiroi Hana” (White Flowers), a play originally in Japanese directed by Mioi Nakayama (30) is of special attraction.

“The play brings to light how wars in various times have ravaged the entire world. I am glad that people in Dharwad have liked the play. During the tour we will be staging the play in English and Hindi,” said Mioi, a resident of Tokyo and part of the expedition.

“On our way to the final destination, the team will be showcasing various cultural programmes at every stopover. During our travel we will be collecting letters of love and peace written by Indian people to be handed over to their Pakistani brethren,” said Lisa Wacch, 27, from Sydney.

The team comprises 33 people, including 25 children, the youngest being Gaja, while Santosh (18) is the oldest.

On the children cycling all the way to Pakistan, the organisers said the participants were trained for two months to gain better physical and mental fitness.

“We know it is a daunting task, especially with children, but the spirits are high as we’re on a goodwill mission. Moreover, prior training has been given to the children to complete the task with success,” Shivang Patel, coordinator of the expedition and a resident of London, told IANS.

The caravan consists of a pilot jeep and a bus with berths, and storage space for groceries and medical kits. Devaraj said physicians had been consulted before the expedition began.

Devaraj said there was no problem in getting Pakistani visa for the expedition.

BASI uses various forms of art to educate poor children. The school, located at Banjarapalya on Kanakapura Road in south Bangalore, has 180 children on its rolls.

Some of the art forms taught to children include sculpture, painting, dance, music, theatre, photography and filmmaking, along with reading, writing and arithmetic.

(Maitreyee Boruah can be contacted at m.boruah@ians.in)

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