Mukti Ashram Boys
180 x 68 cm
oil on canvas
Mukti Ashram is a safe centre on the outskirts of Delhi where the rescued children are taken for immediate rehabilitation, food, reassurance and counselling. Around 80 small boys are staying there, sitting quietly, close to one another, staring at me through enormous dark, wary eyes.
Little Waseem is the first to break the ice – smaller than most but just a little bit more confident. Claiming to be 12, but looking much younger, he tells me how he had been stitching leather purses and wallets. He lived, slept and ate in the factory, working from 10 in the morning until 9 at night. He received no money for his labour. As Waseem talks, the other boys edge forward, staring suspiciously, all unnaturally quiet and still, solemn and obedient.
Finally, they too begin to share their stories - their sad brown eyes close to tears as they talk of the conditions they have left and how much they miss their parents and home. Most had been brought to the city by traffickers, a few had escaped violent fathers or bankruptcy after family illness.
They worked making hair combs, shoes and bracelets or sorting plastics and garbage. Many tell tales of beatings, show bruises and scars. One 9 year old boy describes how he was beaten with an electric cable if he fell asleep at work. If he cried he would be beaten more, so he learned not to cry. When he was being beaten, he came to the conclusion that he was born to be beaten. He was poor and that is what happens to poor people.