Trying to deliver a better future.

All kinds of goods are delivered on bicycles around Bangalore

All kinds of goods are delivered on bicycles around Bangalore

In today’s edition of the Bangalore edition of the Hindu newspaper there is an article that appears as part of a series about the “men and women who make Bangalore what it is.” The article features a boy named Rooban who describes, with considerable pride his work as a newspaper delivery boy working in the city. Rooban states that:-

“I have been delivering newspapers to people’s homes in Malleswaram every morning for over a year now”.

He describes how each morning he rises at 4.30 to cycle to pick up his newspapers and deliver them to local houses and flats, a task that takes him about two hours.

When I read this article I recalled my own experiences as a morning paper boy, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, delivering daily newspapers to houses near where I lived in order to gain some pocket money. There is a long established tradition of paper boys and girls delivering the daily news to houses in most towns and cities across England. It was this initial recollection that attracted me to the Hindu article, but as is often the case when considering my own experiences and those of individuals in India, I found myself pondering on the totally different circumstances that surround a seemingly familiar situation.

For a start, my paper round usually commenced at around 7.00 am. and took at most an hour to complete. But this is not the main difference between Rooban’s experience and my own. Whilst my paper round was undertaken purely to provide me with pocket money to support my hobbies and interests, Rooban says that:-

“I wanted to be able to pay for my own education and that of my younger brother”.

He goes on to say that:-

“My parents don’t want me to work. But I want to, so that I can help them and they can save their money for our everyday needs”.

Rooban describes how after completing his paper round, he cycles back home so that he and his younger brother can get ready for school. This is a well-established routine and it is with evident pride that Rooban reports that he doesn’t miss a school day, even when there are exams.

Like Rooban, I used to return home from my paper deliveries, and after a good breakfast would make my way to school, sometimes I suspect with less enthusiasm than that exhibited by Rooban. I wonder now if I should feel slightly guilty about this, because it is the clear commitment towards his education, and that of his brother, that motivates Rooban to get up before dawn, to pursue a task that might just enable him to have aspirations towards a better quality of life. His recognition that by fulfilling this role he is supporting his family and enabling everyone to have their everyday needs more readily addressed, indicates a maturity of thought that we might not always expect of someone so young.

How, I wonder, does Rooban cope with the expectations of a school day after having risen at 4.30 am. in order to complete his day’s work? In England concerns are often expressed about children who arrive at school having had insufficient sleep and possibly missing breakfast. There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that such circumstances have a detrimental impact upon the ability of children to concentrate and learn. Yet it would appear from the Hindu’s reporting of this boy’s life, within a column celebrating the lives of “men and women who make Bangalore what it is,” that the editor sees this as part of the normal expectations that enable the city to function.

When I did my paper round I did so out of choice. Had I chosen not to take on this job I suspect my life would not have been greatly different. I suppose it may be argued that even this rather trivial task taught me something about responsibility and self-discipline. I had to get myself to work on time, deliver the right newspapers to the correct houses, keeping them dry when it rained, and learn how to fend off the occasional nasty tempered dog (it lived at number 16 and is permanently etched in my memory!) For Rooban, the choices he has made are very different from my own. He has reasoned that delivering newspapers can help him to secure a better education for himself and his brother, and make life easier for his parents. I look back on my experiences as a paper boy with quite fond memories as a task that enabled me to do some of the things that I might not have been otherwise able to do. In the future, Rooban may recollect his days delivering newspapers as a critical factor in enabling him to gain a more secure position in life, that enables him to provide a better childhood for his offspring than he has experienced in his youth. This is the wish that I have for him and thousands in similar situations in Bangalore, let us hope that his dreams are realised.




7 thoughts on “Trying to deliver a better future.

  1. Hi Richard, I like the positive connotations of your comments on this particular issue. It is a sad fact that child labour is rampant in many countries of the world, but children such as Rooban are inspiring stories of the possibilities of hope that arise despite the problem. One of my main concerns, however, is that in shouldering such heavy burdens from young ages, so many children are robbed of the enjoyment of mundane childhood activities such as old-fashioned play time with their peers outside of school, reading for pleasure, and so on, which are so essential for the nurturing of their characters and personalities.

    • Hi Saneeya. I very much agree with your sentiment. Although in Rooban’s situation time spent in employment seems essential, it does indeed eat into his discretionary time. Looking at the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child education is supposed to be free and “…he shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development.” So, the questions we might ask are ‘Is Rooban’s education really free?’ and ‘Does his employment interfere with his development?’ I don’t know the answers to those questions, but they are worth pondering. To finish, one more passage from the Declaration we should consider: “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.” I think ‘society and the public’ means us. We have some work to do! 🙂

      • Well said Tim. Unfortunately the UN Convention appears to be ignored by many of the world’s governments. The clause regarding employment that would prejudice his education has a ring of irony here. Rooban is engaged in employment in the hope that it will improve his educational opportunities. However, as you rightly state, education should be “freely” available. Sadly, in India the best equipped schools, employing the best qualified (though not always most dedicated) teachers are all fee paying. I suspect that the Indian government would argue that they provide Government schools that free to children like Rooban. Unfortunately these are often very poorly resourced and the teachers badly paid. Furthermore, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act that states the right of all children to have an education, whilst well meaning is yet to be properly funded or deployed. Indeed there are many school principal’s who are being obstructive to its implementation.
        As Saneeya says, Rooban’s story is in one sense inspiring – it demonstrates how committed he and other like him is to obtain an education. However, so long as children are exploited in this way, with politicians and educators turning a blind eye, the greater will be the challenge to break the circle of poverty and work for a more inclusive society.

      • Hi Tim, thank you for your comments, and for directing me to the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child – Incidentally, I remember learning as a student in Kenya, about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, propagated in 1959, and also recognises “the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” All UN states are signatories to this – yet sadly, there is no follow-up or monitoring of this, as there has been for other, more time-bound UN initiatives such as the MDGs. You are right – we do most certainly have a whale of a job cut out for us!

  2. I totally agree Saneeya. Childhood is a precious stage of life and one that is gradually being eroded. Whilst Rooban is undoubtedly showing great maturity in his commitment to his family he is also missing out on the opportunity to develop other skills through his playful interaction with peers. Sadly this is the real world for so many children and it is difficult to break the chains that keep this situation as it is.

  3. I have just been reading an article in the Times Higher Ed about whether the increasing consumerisation of higher education is turning students into ‘litigants with big sticks’ who view obtaining a degree in the same way that they would buy something from Argos. This made me think about Rooban and his education, and about the education system – at all levels – in the UK. He – truly, and through the sweat of his labour, rather than via some maybe-never-to-be-reclaimed debt – is paying for his education. Does he view himself as a consumer? Would he complain about the standard of teaching if he failed his exams? Does he view himself as a purchaser, or a supplicant or a partner in learning. A complex thing, education.

  4. Yes,
    The marketisation of education is certainly taking its toll. Sadly, as with so many young people, the quality of the education that Rooban may be able to attain may well be related to his financial power (or lack of it).

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