Lighting Lamp in Little Lives
Shamshad Bhai, as he is popularly known in the carpet belt of Eastern UP, is a mainstream Muslim nationalist dedicated to uplift and rehabilitate bonded child labour employed in carpet industry of Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Varanasi area of Uttar Pradesh. He took to social work because he wanted to light few lamps in the dark lives of deprived and underprivileged children. “Instead of cursing the darkness, let us light a few lamps”, this is what he keeps telling everyone in his surroundings.
Shamshad Bhai is a M.Sc. in Agriculture from the University of Udaipur, Rajasthan. This degree in Agriculture at that time (in 1972) could easily get him a well-paid job in Government, University or even in a foreign country, but he decided to chart an entirely different path for himself – a path which was subversive to rural power structure that too in his own village, subsequently expanding to wider regions covering parts of Uttar Pradesh and adjoining states i.e. Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
A product of Jay Prakash Narayan’s ‘Sampurna Kranti’ movement, Shamshad Bhai diverted his focus from politics and decided to work for the downtrodden. The early years of his social-life were spent in Bihar to work for the Human Rights and Social Justice. It was during late seventees that he founded an organisation named PARIVARTAN, which is now a well-known organisation on tribals' rights in Madhya Pradesh. There, he was accepted by the Vanvasis as one among them, who erected hut for him to stay and produced paddy for his living. Late on, inspired by the famous Gandhian social worker Sri Prem Bhai of ‘Vanvasi Seva Ashram’ in the Vanvasi Sonebhadra district, Shamshad Bhai focussed on the carpet belt where large number of children were working in carpet looms, deprived of health, education and means of survival. He made it his aim of life to serve these children – by educating them, training them in the useful vocation and making them self reliant.
For running free schools and welfare centres for child labour, Shamshad Bhai formed his own non-government organisation in called CREDA (Centre for Rural Education and Development Action). He made its head office in Mirzapur. Through this organisation, he has been relentlessly pursuing the issue of child labour, bonded child labour and child rights. He made perceptible impact in his project areas where he has been working since 1982. An extensive work area where he focuses are – Manda block of Allahabad district; City, Madihan, Lalganj, Halia blocks of Mirzapur district; and Dudhi and Chopan blocks in Sonebhadra district. Having worked for about 35 years in the area of rehabilitation of child labour, Shamshad Bhai and CREDA were listed in various policy-making advisory bodies and expert committees of the Government of Bharat and State Government.
However, it has not been a smooth sailing for Shamshad Bhai to achieve his mission. But he has remained steadfast and by adopting a constructive approach in true humble spirit he has succeeded in sensitising people and even winning the support of those who were earlier antagonistic to his cause. The action programmes, campaigns and movements planned and initiated under his leadership through CREDA has been widely published and documented by outside agencies. CREDA has so far mainstreamed nearly 72,000 child labourers, bonded child labourers and potential child labourers and out of school children into school system, run by CREDA. Realising the impact of his work the Government of India and some UN agencies also supported him.
Shamshad Bhai says that empowerment of the community can be brought out by educating the children. The projects have tackled large number of children through four strategic interventions, i.e. community cottage schools, enrolment in government primary schools (classes 1 to 5), retention in government primary schools; and Local NGO/CBO support for schooling.
Under this project, 20,000 children have been educated in Community Cottage Schools (CCSs) and mainstreamed in government schools, 1,250 deprived girl children were educated in Community Schools, 900 adolescent girls were educated in Adolescent Girls Centres, 25,517 out-of-school children in 5-7 years age group admitted in government primary schools in 1st standard, 7,500 dropout children retained in government primary schools in class 2nd to 5th by providing necessary support, 25 local initiatives are directly involved with the project and covered 1,500 children, need-based support provided to government and private schools in terms of 50 para-teachers and sitting mats, chairs, tables, etc. to strengthen the primary and secondary education system of the government at village level.
Challenges were many before CREDA. A large number of children had to be accommodated into formal schools, as community child care schools were just a bridging arrangement. There was problem of attitude too, as carpet children were considered as lost generation.
Naturally the concentration had to be child labour of carpet industry as against other working children. And the biggest challenge was to make the parents, who had become used to stipends, contribute to education of their children. An advocacy campaign was a natural corollary for this. In the forefront were former child labours. Plays based on real-life stories led to a movement of sort and parents voluntarily started taking children out of work. This was accompanied with a shift in strategy. An area-based approach was adopted in Halia and Lalganj blocks and later in Madihan block.
In its work with the deprived sections of the community, mainly SCs and STs, CREDA has stood by them at all the times. CREDA has also brought its focus on women and their empowerment. 100 Self-Help Groups have been formed in 100 villages and also to tackle the local health problems, 100 women health workers have been given initial training in first aid, similarly 50 traditional birth
attendants have been given training for safe delivery in
Furthermore, to empower women, 1,250 women were given skill training for their economic emancipation. Functional literacy training was one of the major programmes taken up for large number of the women to broaden their understanding.
Acknowledging the endeavours of Shamshad Bhai and his CREDA, besides the Government of Bharat and other national organisations, the international organisations like UNICEF, ILO and UNDP have also came forward for
—Dr Shakti Kumar Pandey