Reethu, a story teller, a person often found between the pages of a book or contemplating the nuances of life.
As India grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, youth in rural Punjab have been forced to take up 'khuiyyan pattna' (digging wells) in order to support their families who are struggling amid the crisis.
According to a report by The Indian Express, 18-year-old Sandeep Kumar, from village Manki of Samrala in Ludhiana, is one among the youths who are digging wells. Sandeep, who recently cleared his Class 12 exams from Government Senior Secondary School, Manki, is not sure if he will be able to pursue higher studies.
While he wishes to study further, currently, his main concern is to support his poor family, whose financial struggles have been aggravated by the pandemic. By digging wells, Sandeep earns a meagre Rs 300-350 in a day.
Along with Sandeep, his two younger brothers also do labour work every few days to help their father, Munna Lal, who also works as a labourer.
"I have cleared my Class 12 this year in humanities stream. I want to my pursue studies — if not graduation then at least a computer course, but my father cannot afford my education ahead. Coronavirus and lockdown have made things worse and since lockdown started, I have dug four wastewater disposal wells at different locations in Samrala to support my family," Sandeep told the media.
Sandeep's work begins at 8 in the morning and ends at 6 pm. For 10 hours, excluding the one hour he takes for lunch, the youngster just digs the soil with a spade.
"It is a contractual work, not a job but it pays me Rs 300-350 a day. It takes two days to dig 20-30 feet deep well and another day to cement it. A team of three can complete a well in three days and whenever a team member is required, I also take my friends along who need work," he added.
Along with Sandeep, his two younger brothers - Mandeep, a Class 12 student, and Amandeep, a Class 11 student - also occasionally do labour works to support their family.
"My younger brothers now attend online classes. We recently purchased a second hand smartphone for Rs 4,500 with family savings and a small loan…Who wants to leave studies and work as a labourer, digging wells but we have no other option," Sandeep said.
The youngster added that earlier, the family was struggling to pay the fee of Rs 85 a month for Class 12. However, their teacher helped them a lot and paid the fees whenever they could not arrange it in time. But when the lockdown came into effect in March, things took a turn for the worse.
"But since the lockdown started, things only got worse as our father failed to get daily job or labour work. Now since unlocking has started, some people have started constructing homes in village and he is getting little bit of work," Sandeep said.
"Our mother also used to go to homes and work as domestic help for Rs 500 or so. But I am the eldest of the three siblings and have to leave studies after Class 12 so that my younger brothers can complete their Class 12," he added.
The youngster further said that in order to support his family during the lockdown, he also worked in paddy fields and helped at home construction sites. While he had been doing odd labour jobs since he was in Class 9, back then, it was only on Saturdays or Sundays. But now, with their situation much worse, Sandeep has to work regularly to help his family.
17-year-old Mandeep Singh, also from village Manki, goes along with Sandeep for digging wells to support his family.
"Initially, I was working as labourer during maize harvesting season. I have also worked as a labourer with tent/catering owners and then also went for labour works at construction sites. Then I started accompanying Sandeep for digging wells as it pays Rs 300-350 a day," Mandeep said.
"My father is a labourer and my younger sister is also studying. So, he needs my help for earning. I try to attend online classes as we recently got a smartphone but only when I am free from work… My father took a loan so that we could purchase a smartphone for Rs 7,000," he added.
Meanwhile, Daljit Singh, vice-principal, Government Senior Secondary School, Manki, said that these students could not join online class groups on WhatsApp as they did not have smartphones. While recently they have joined the groups, they are able to complete the work only when they get time from labour work owing to family compulsions.
"I was surprised when I found these students missing from online classes and later when we tried to locate where they were, we got to know that they were engaged in jobs such as digging wastewater wells. For such a meager amount, they dig soil for entire day under the sun and then try to complete the online classes work," Daljit said.
"If they will not work, there won't be food in their homes so we can't force them to leave work and study. We try to support them as much as possible because in most cases, it is with great difficulty that they have even arranged a smartphone. Coronavirus and lockdown have pushed them into extreme poverty," he added.
Meanwhile, in several parts of Punjab, a group of nine teachers of the Punjab education department are transcribing the Doordarshan classes for primary students who are missing out on these lessons.
While online classes for government school students had begun on May 18 through Doordarshan Punjabi, many children living in villages were unable to attend these classes due to no power supply or because they go with their family to the fields for paddy transplantation.
Himanshu Singla, Elementary Trained Teacher (ETT), who teaches at the Government Primary School in Banga village of Sangrur district said that after the classes began via Doordarshan, many students approached him for help, stating that they had missed the classes.
"A friend, Vishal Goyal who teaches at a primary school in Kadawi village of Patiala, also started helping. We started transcribing the online lectures for primary students and started sending them out through different WhatsApp groups to over 1,300 teachers across the state, who in turn forward them to their students," the teacher added. The two teachers soon had the help of seven more teachers to transcribe the lessons.Also Read: Punjab: 9 Teachers Transcribe Online Classes For Students Unable To Attend
Thank you for subscribing.
We have sent you a confirmation email.