Nandana Reddy and Damu Acharya have made India a pioneer in addressing children's problems in a changing world
When finally Damodar 'Damu' Acharya rebelled in 1980 and set out to organise oppressed fellow workers, little did he know what awaited him. It took him quite a while to ask what he now says should have been obvious: "Why are there children amidst adult workers at factory-gate meetings?"
World of the working child is barely visible to most of us. We have developed a blind spot. There are a quarter billion child labourers worldwide, including the US and Australia. India contributes a handsome share to that number. These productive labourers have few rights, let alone spells of innocence and childhood.
Damu did ask the question soon enough, and from that moment has grown an endeavour that has raised awareness about the plight of labouring children, led to the passing of legislation to protect them and is today, a worldwide movement that enables children to assert themselves in the life around them. Their sorrow continues yes, but at least now, we hear their sobs.
Damu was born in 1957 in Basroor, Karnataka. Son of a poor temple priest, he dreamed of educating himself to land a stable job. He left his coastal town for Bangalore and gained his college degree in 1978. Then began the hunt for a job. He lived by himself paying his way as a caterer, construction supervisor and as a odd jobs man. Then came what he thought was a big break. Macmillan the publisher, was starting a photo type setting unit.
D Acharya B A, applied and was selected, trained for 3 months and was confirmed as a permanent employee. Damu thought he had arrived. What a brand to work for, he marvelled! But his long walk had just begun. His shift began at 6 am. So he awoke at 3 am to walk several kilometres to be on time. At work they sat in a line like oarsmen in a galley. Their time out to the wash room was logged. They were not allowed to talk to each other. Just as well because 8 hours were barely enough to complete the work load. Their college degrees were docked with the employer. All this for a salary of Rs.200 per month.
Within a year Damu began to organise fellow workers. He was thrown out without his certificate being returned to him. And that crisis brought him to Nandana Reddy.