Traveling from the streets lined with gleaming hi-tech IT offices in Bangalore – the proverbial Silicon Valley of India - to the unhygienic slum in Sirsi adjoining the K. R. Market in the heart of the city, one’s first thoughts are – How is it possible to survive in this environment? But Ayyamma, 18, has not only survived here since her birth; she is the shining example of winning in the face of extreme adversity and poverty and is a source of inspiration for others in her locality.
In a room smaller than the average office cubicle lives her family of eight including her mother and six siblings. The only sunlight which filters in the house is Ayyamma’s smile as she recalls her life.
“After my father passed away, the family fell into difficulties. We didn’t know how to cope with the situation. Soon my sisters began working and took care of the family. But after my second sister too died, it was really difficult. I’ve begun to work and I contribute to the family in my own small way.”
Recalling her journey she reminiscences, “I was in the 3rd standard when I had to leave school. I used to work in a warehouse carrying boxes. Then the NGO- Concerned for Working Children - came and helped me go to school. I got interested in studies when I secured a first grade in my Class VII and continued to study till Class IX. Since we had financial problems, I moved to Apsa Hostel where I completed my Class X. I then went to Kundapura to complete my Class XII and also completed a diploma in computers. Even during my school days I took a keen interest in the Bhima Sangha (working children’s union). I later became its Bangalore branch secretary. Bhima Sangha works in Sirsi, Bellary, Davangere, Kundapura & Bangalore. I’m also part of the national movement of the Sangha.”
Did that mean she stopped working at home or otherwise? “When I was in school, I would help my mother who used to work with shopping, washing utensils etc. Now since I go to office at 9.30 a.m. I work very little at home. My sister takes care of the household chores”
Today Ayamma is the Vice president of the state level committee and the international co-ordinator for Bhima Sangha. She represented Bhima Sangha at different platforms at the state, national and international levels like the International Festival in Norway in June- 2004.
Ayyamma says, “I didn’t face physical violence as such. But I view the fact that I couldn’t go to school early on due to poverty as another form of violence. That perhaps is my first brush with ‘violence’. Poverty is the biggest problem for people like us. Since both parents go to work, kids are left uncared for. The eldest has to quit school and take care of the siblings. Parents fight with each other over money because there is not enough to feed the family. It’s worse when the father comes home drunk. Parental fights result in violence against children. ”
As a crusader for child rights she has very clear views on violence faced by them and says “In my opinion beating up a child is the worst form of violence. As a pressure group, we have worked on the worst form of violence against girls—child (early) marriage. Female foeticide is common in Sirsi. We have been campaigning against that too. We see female foeticide as yet another deadly form of violence.”
According to her it’s more difficult for working children. “Working children face violence when authorities raid workplaces. Most often kids are sent back home and admitted to schools. But they often quit school because they can’t cope with the situation there. They end up becoming street children. It’s really bad.”
But she has never let the situation overpower her resolve to succeed. “Although I very much wanted to study further and my mom wanted me to study too, the situation at home didn’t allow me to do so. My computer training helped me a lot. I got a job in a shop. I feel great that I’m the only person in my colony to have passed Class XII! Where there’s a will there’s a way. I never even dreamt that I would be sitting in front of a computer one day!”
“Bhima Sangha played an important role in the UN study on Child Violence. Before going to the US to participate in the conference, I went through reports that emerged out of London meets in five sectors like home & family, schools, working places etc. I was instrumental in closing the gaps that existed in the earlier report. As a member of the ad panel, I also went to Geneva to participate in a meeting of children & elders.”
One wonders how people like Ayyamma survive in India. How have they managed to keep the spark alive in their eyes and smiles? The answer is not difficult to find. It is eternal hope. Ayyamma seems to have that in plenty. “I am hopeful that when our recommendations reach Kofi Annan and they are implemented, the world be a better place for children.”