Mukti Caravan - A Campaign on Wheels

Mukti Caravan, the Campaign on Wheels, is a mobile cultural group of former child bonded labourers. These activists visit villages to create awareness about need for education, emphasizing on the need for improving access to education and quality of education, to completely eradicate child labour from the society.
 
The Caravan is run by former child bonded labourers as they have themselves bear the pain of being a child labour. So, they are best suited to explain to the villagers the kind of life a child labour is forced to lead and the hardships they face.
 
The activists along with the mobile unit (caravan van equipped with campaign materials and audio-video equipments) are deployed in rural areas where they perform street plays, sing folk songs infused with social messages, distribute pamphlets, organize public meetings and awareness camps on the issue of exploitation of children. They also make audio-visual presentation for a greater impact on the villagers.
 
These activists, in co-ordination with government agencies, work towards stepping up the pace of development work and for developing strategies to link policies for eradicating child labour, providing education to all and reducing poverty.
 
The activists use simple language and rely mostly on the local lingua to make the villagers understand the issues more easily and effectively. The first hand testimony by these former child labourers plays an important role in informing the parents about various tactics used by the traffickers for persuading them (parents) to send their children along.
 
The use of local dialect also supports the Mukti caravan in their efforts towards creating awareness about child labour and highlighting the importance of education for their children.
 
The sensitization among children is also immense as the Mukti Caravan helps in the formation of Bal Mitra Grams.
 
The Mukti Caravan activities also focus on girl child highlighting the need for girls’ education. It also engages in organizing awareness generation camps on child servitude for children, parents, teachers, panchayat office bearers, students, and influential local personalities.
 
For holistic development of the children, the Mukti Caravan also advocates for better infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads and communication system with the local administration
 
Mukti Caravan in Bihar
 
Bihar faced one of the worst tragedies of modern times due to the massive flooding of the Kosi River. The catastrophe created massive loss of lives, displacement of millions of people, damage to millions of hectares of standing crops, acute scarcity of drinking water, total destruction of food stocks/houses, schools hospitals, and much more.
 
Over 40 lakhs (4 million) people were affected in Supaul, Madhepura, Purnia, Araria and Katihar alone with an estimated 42% being children. This was the most vulnerable group, with loss of shelter, education, health and most vulnerable to being misled into forced labour by middlemen.
 
Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) was the first to realise that the situation may be compounded by the fact that this area of north Bihar is already one of the biggest source areas of trafficking. Organized crime groups have cropped up and are taking advantage of the situation of vulnerability by trafficking scores of children and young adolescents. Thus BBA took immediate steps to curb trafficking in the aftermath of this tragedy at both the grassroots as well as the policy domain.
 
 
Background
 
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh of India are major source areas for trafficking of children for forced labour. Thousands of children are trafficked every year to work in towns or cities in various unorganised sectors of work. This is also corroborated by BBA's work in its regular rescue activities. For the past 2 years, BBA has rescued over 1500 children from Delhi and surrounding areas; most of these rescued children are natives of Bihar.
 
A strong need for generating awareness and mobilizing the villagers was felt to solve the problem of trafficking of children. Middlemen lure children's parents into sending the children to a bigger city in search of a better way of life, more money to be earned or better education. When the children actually land in the city, the truth is different- they are made to work over 16-17 hours daily in return of minimal or no income and have no freedom to move or change work or leave.
 
It was in this context that the campaign to end trafficking of children for forced labour was started with the objective of generating awareness in the flood affected and source areas of trafficking in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
 
Mukti Caravan, a mobile campaign of 8 activists would go around the area performing skits, plays and songs to raise awareness among the villagers in this area. They would also collect complaints from the villagers about any children that had been trafficked /sent with middlemen.  Besides they would also conduct raid and rescue operations wherever necessary. In the later stages of the campaign, public vigilance committees would also be formed.
 
It was to prevent this large scale trafficking that Mukti Caravan was flagged off on 18 December 2008 by the  Mr. Sushil Modi, Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Mr. Awadhesh Narayan Singh,  Labour Minister of Bihar and Mr. Ramdeo Prasad, Chairperson, Bihar State Child Labour Commission and in the presence of several other dignitaries. The Mukti Caravan team started the campaign from the flood affected areas of Bihar.
 
As part of the awareness drive, Mukti Caravan has covered 7 districts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh covering 156 villages. A regular day for the Mukti Caravan team involves conducting two meetings where they would perform a play and talk with the audience about the problem of trafficking for forced labour. At every meeting, the activists would invite members from the audience to share their views on the issue, if they have seen anybody in their village being taken to towns/cities or know of any person who approaches the villagers to take their children to cities with the promise of giving them a brighter future. Complaints would be collected from the audience and from the Panchayat officials. 
The awareness generated by the team has led to the revelation of several cases of trafficking where the police have acted upon and rescued children. Children from Baijnathpur village of Saharsa were rescued in January, similarly stories of children who have gone missing have come to the fore.
 
Public vigilance committees constituting 14-15 people were formed in 24 villages in various blocks of Supaul district. Among the members are sarpanch, community leader, religious leader, educated but unemployed youth, literate woman, teacher/Principal, labour leader and intellectual citizens.
 
Aside from this, the Mukti Caravan team conducted rescue operations and liberated 55 children from being trafficked. 
At the Saharsa railway station in Bihar on 8th January 2009, 12 children were rescued and 2 traffickers arrested during the rescue operation at Saharsah. The children rescued were in the age group of 10-12 years and were from Madhepura and Saharsah districts of Bihar. 10 yrs old Chotu Rishidev, who was rescued said “Rajdeep Yadav (trafficker) had given Rs. 500 to my father.” He said that I would study and also do some work in Punjab. All the 12 rescued children were supposed to go to Punjab to work as bonded labourers in agriculture fields. An FIR was registered against the traffickers and children were produced before the Child Welfare Committee and repatriated.
 
In the first week of February, BBA conducted India Action Week in 7 states simultaneously with the objective of mobilizing the district machinery in releasing child labourers. On 19th February 2009, 29 child labourers were rescued by Mukti Caravan activists from teashops/ dhabas and hotels of Saharsa. The joint rescue operation was done with the help Assistant Labour Commissioner, Aditya Rajhans. Cases were registered against the employers under Child Labour Regulation and Prohibition Act 1986. The areas covered under the operation were Bengali Bazar, Mahaveer Chowk, DV Road, Kachehri and Railway Daala of Saharsa city. The rescued children belong to Supaul, Araria and Madhepura distrcis of Bihar.
 
Saharsa is a railway junction and several trains from the interiors of Bihar to major cities like Delhi have a halt in Saharsa. Hence this is a place which is both a source and transit for trafficking. Both the rescue operations highlight the increased trafficking of children from the flood affected areas.
 
On 24th February 2009, while Mukti Caravan was performing outside the railway station of Saharsa, the activists saw a group of 10 children going along with 3 men. The activists started talking with these children, on seeing which, the 3 men started arguing with Mukti Caravan activists. At the same time, a 12 year old child told the activists that we were being taken to Jammu & Kashmir to work there. He identified the trafficker as Manish Uraon, who had given Rs. 800 to his father. The activists than talked with railway police and rescued the 10 children from being trafficked. Also present is an article on trafficking in India Today, a leading magazine of the country which shows the work of Mukti Caravan.
 
During April and May 2009, the Mukti Caravan moved to  Lakhimpur Khiri and Meerut districts of Uttar Pradesh. At the time of Loksabha election, the caravan team urged to people to Elect those , who work for child rights. The team performed in the Child Friendly Villages started by Bachpan Bachao Andolan. During the performance, the village heads and members of youth committee were so motivated that they ensured the BBA activists to make their villages child labour free with their own resources.
 
Victims now the Liberators
 
Prashanto, Hughli (West Bengal): Prashanto was working as a bonded labourer in the jewellery making units of Karol Bagh in New Delhi. He, along with 92 other bonded child labourer, was rescued by BBA activists in a dangerous raid and rescue operation on 19th May 2007. Prashanto was the recipient of the Rehabilitation package under Bonded Labour Abolition Act 1976. He then got enrolled in Bal Ashram, where he learnt the basics of education and received training in theatre. Now he is an active member of Mukti Caravan troupe.
 
Rahul Kumar, Saharsah (Bihar): 11 years old Rahul used to work as domestic help and in brick kilns of Saharsah. BBA activist, Ghuran Mahto, rescued him. Rahul was enrolled in Mukti Ashram, which is the Transit Rehabilitation Center, run by BBA. He was soon assimilated into non formal education in Mukti Ashram. Eventually, Rahul was admitted in Bal Ashram where he received training in theatre as well as in painting. Rahul was also an active participant in the South Asian March against Trafficking (2007) of children for forced labour. He is now proud to be a part of the cultural troupe of Mukti Caravan.
 
Naveen Kumar, Shahpura (Rajasthan): Naveen worked as a bonded labour in the silver factory of Delhi since he was 11 years old. He worked there for more than 3 years. BBA activist, Sudev, rescued him and Naveen was admitted in Bal Ashram. Naveen received training in sewing as well as in theatre. He participated in the Education March (2001) and South Asian March against Trafficking of children for forced labour (2007). He is now the team leader of Mukti Caravan.
 
Luv Kumar, Saharsah (Bihar): Luv was trafficked from the Gheena village of Saharsah by the middleman, Ramchandra Sada , when he was 9 years old. He was sold to a local landlord in Amritsar (Punjab) for an amount of Rs. 2000 by Ramchandra Sada. Luv worked as a slave in the agricultural field of the same landlord for 4 years. It was on his parents' complaint that Luv was rescued by BBA activist Rajesh Sharma in a dangerous rescue operation. He was enrolled in Bal Ashram and received training in welding as well as in theatre. Now he is an active member of Mukti Caravan troupe.
 
Vijay Kumar, Supaul (Bihar): Vijay used to work in the agricultural field of a landlord in the village that he lived. BBA activist Jawahar Rishidev persuaded his family to send him to school. He joined Bal Ashram and got enrolled in class 8th in a government school. He also participated in various programmes organised by Bharat Scout and Guides and was duly honored for his excellence. Vijay was also actively involved in cultural activities. Now he is an active member of Mukti Caravan troupe.