Nagaraj, former child labour, now sculptor and prolific photographer. A vocal campaigner against child labour, he is seen here participating in a street play to raise awareness on the issue.
By Mioi Nakayama
“I dream of building a Bornfree Art School in Shivakashi for children who are sweating for labour and I want to become a principal there. I will dismiss all teachers who punish children with sticks and violence. Children should learn arts and be educated.” As a result of this speech by a former street child , the girls of Bishop Cotton Girls School in Bangalore, one of India’s prestigious schools started a campaign against using fireworks.
Meet Nagaraj, one of Bangalore’s most persuasive speakers. His heart aches for the thousands of children engaged in the fireworks and match industries in Shivakasi, Tamil Nadu. He appeals to children to liberate other children who are still toiling their lives away in inhuman conditions. His appeal works. Many children have stopped using fire cracker even for the festival of Diwali.
Nagaraj was one of eleven children born in the small village of Andhra Pradesh. Since the time of his grandfather, his family worked in a mobile circus shuttling between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Once during his travels, he ran away to Bangalore hoping to find a better life. Intelligent and bold, young Nagaraj’s commitment and passion come from a tough life on the streets.
He worked as a bobbin weaver in a silk factory 40 km away from Bangalore City. He was fed with rotten food daily. The claustrophobic conditions used make him feel sick and the bad food caused him to vomit. Hoping for a better life away from the factory, he did a lot of different jobs such as cleaning drainage, domestic work, as attendants in car parks and so on
Finally he landed up on the streets of Jayanagar in Bangalore. Nagaraj picked up smoking, stealing, sniffing solution, ragpicking and all kinds of unsavoury habits on the streets. Then he became a partner with Satish, who was lame of one leg. Together they entertained the crowds on the streets of Bangalore. Acrobatics, mimicry, humour and disabilities combined to become a saleable formula. Every day they would entertain, beg and earn approximately Rs.300. Going to movies was the ultimate joy in their lives.
One day Nagaraj was spotted by John Devaraj, architect by training, sculptor by talent and an award winning art director. They joined the Bornfree Art School (BAS) run by John. The BAS is an art school exclusively for working, street and bonded children. It is a place where children can develop an interest in studies through art education such as sculpturing, theater, dance, music, painting, photography and filmmaking. The Bornfree Art School is not a building, but a movement of people. It believes that no child is free until all children are free and it is children who free other children from labour.
Since Nagaraj joined the BAS, his interest in art has grown enormously. Nagaraj is a natural sculptor whereas casting a sculpture is what students of Fine Arts learn at the university. He also became a fine photographer and he boldly photographs children in workplaces and streets despite lots of harassments by adults.
He has photographed more than 5000 pictures of working and street children when the Bornfree Art School undertook the History Expedition where children cycled 4,040km across Karnataka, Goa and Tamil Nadu. Nagaraj wrote poems about children throughout this trip as well.
In his imaginative paintings, elephants dance with children with birds and bees. He sold his paintings and photographs this year and made almost Rs. 5,000 which he put in his bank account. However, he never spends his earnings on himself, but sends money to his family who are still surviving by their mobile the circus in Tamil Nadu.
Recently he reunited with his family after seven years and bought them a DVD player and a television. He is now dreaming of becoming a professional artist and wants to liberate more working and street children. More power to him.