180 x 72 cm
oil on canvas
Sanjay stands triumphantly on top of the climbing frame surveying the whole of the Bal Ashram site, his hat pulled down over his ears to keep out the chill of the early morning air. For this 10 year old boy, freedom is still a novelty after years of labouring from dawn until dusk in the stifling conditions of a brick kiln factory.
When Sanjay was 4 years old his father borrowed money to survive but was unable to earn enough to pay back the debt. The whole family became the property of the brick kiln owner, illegally enslaved into bonded labour. Little Sanjay’s job was to remove the hot bricks from the oven to cool before being loaded onto the transport lorries. His tiny hands would be covered in blisters from the hot ovens and, to add to his pain, hot, melted candle wax would be poured onto the blisters in an effort to prevent infection.
The owner protected his human investment with guards and dogs but the whole family managed to run away in the night and find their way back to their home village where Sanjay got a job washing glasses in a hotel. One day a BBA activist was visiting the village and told the family about Bal Ashram. Sanjay and his elder brother were accepted for rehabilitation and non-formal education. His two sisters were able to go back into a local school. Although initially he missed his family, he now loves Bal Ashram. He is extremely bright and working hard to catch up with his peers so that he can join formal schooling in the next term. He dreams of one day becoming a professional cricketer!