More than 300,000 children are estimated to be trapped in India’s carpet industry. Most of India’s carpets are woven in Uttar Pradesh, where the majority of workers are low-caste Hindu boys. This is his story.
My name is Ravi Shanker Kumar. I think I am between 12 and 13 years old. My cousin was working in the loom and it was he, in fact, who told my uncle to go back to the village and talk to my parents so they could send me there. My parents came up to me and asked me if I wanted to go. I refused. The loom owner refused to take no for an answer, however. He paid them a sum of 500 rupees [$10] and then, they asked me to leave. Once he had paid the 500, the loom owner and I took off from the village.
The very first day I was made to sit at a loom. The loom owner made a little mark on the loom and gave me clear instructions to weave a carpet up to that mark itself. If I was unable to do so, I had to work under candlelight to reach that particular mark. The whole morning I would be weaving and I would only get some basic and half-cooked food at about 12:30 p.m. every day. We were confined in one room and made to work for a period of 12 hours. Once in a day we could go and maybe use the bathroom, but the bathroom stops were limited in number. My father came to visit me once, he asked the loom owner to release me, but he refused: “until such time as the carpet is completed, I can’t let him leave because he’s the only one who knows the pattern.” My father went away. That was it. That was the only time I spoke to my father.
I was rescued in a raid operation conducted by Dajna Kurooji, a person who works in the Bal Vikas Ashram (BVA). He came in a raid and picked me up from there and took me to the ashram. I was very scared during the raid. I thought I was going to get beaten up again and get thrown away. I was terrified. The loom owner used to tell us, “If and when the police come, run, run away because they are going to be mean to you.” The police took us all by surprise so there was no time to consider running away.
Kumar was taken and given medical care at Bal Vikas Ashram. He was given counselling, literacy training and basic rights education. There, he discovered his love for electricity, which he is learning a little bit about at BVA. He wishes to teach his brothers and sisters when he goes back home.