Case Study

Little souls and buttons of a mighty trade

Pale and grim-faced, 11-year-old girl, Urooj, moves along a childhood that does not know any joy, or playfulness. Other kids of her age may loathe it to do without them. Hers is a workaday life of daily drudgery. Unmindful of the world around her she sits for hours with her mother in a hovel at Janata Mazdoor Colony, near Jafrabad, in East Delhi too stoically to look beyond its confines. The reason for this being that she is a home-based craftsperson in a thriving garment trade that merrily goes on from nearby Gandhi Nagar, shooting up India’s production and export charts while employing scores of less fortunate children like her on an informal basis through a team of contractors.

The children alongwith the women of many a householdaround hers end up working through day and night fixing buttons and cutting rough or thread-ridden,though not exactly frayed, edges of freshly turned outdenim jeans and jackets from hundreds of tailoringunits, or spread across the area. This is howUrooj, her four out of six siblings and their mother keeptheir body and soul together ever since Urooj’s parentsfell out. The mother, Shabana, was forced to move outfrom her husband’s abode at Loni in Ghaziabad on theoutskirts of Delhi about three years ago and landed upat her brother’s JanataMazdoor Colony tenement. Twoof Urooj’s brothers were left at Loni with their fatherRishad and his mother doing the daily chores like lookingafter and milking a few buff aloes that the family has.


Being the eldest girl child, Urooj has to look after herthree younger siblings. She gets up at dawn, cleans theirtenuous dwelling and readies it for work where piles ofjeans await to be cleared with properly studded buttonsand smooth edges before it gets too late. Working overtimewith her mother has made Urooj quite adept in thetrade. She proudly says that she can cut the thread from

a pile of 25 jeans in an hour’s time or even less. She iseven more dexterous in putting buttons on jeans, courtesy her fast moving fingers. Thread snipping from apair of jeans brings her half-a-rupee and buttons put onfive pairs of jeans a rupee. An hour’s work at full pacefetches her twelve-and-a-half rupees. But there are leanseasons that come generally between April and Augustwhen Urooj and her mother’s income takes a downslide because work is difficult to come by from contractors.


Shabana calls her and that of her daughter’s incomea pittance, lamenting that for years the rates for thejob done by them have been the same though prices ofjeans and jacket sold all over the city have gone up quitea bit. “If we complain about the rates, the contractorwould simply stop work coming to us and there wouldbe many others to grab it at the rates that may get,” sheremarks with a heavy heart. Finding their lives to havereached a dead end of a back-breaking drudgery and littleincome, Shabana and her daughter had little hope tobreak the vicious cycle of poverty, squalor and illiteracyuntil meeting the volunteers from Bharat Jan ShikshaKendra (BJSK), a self-help group. They reached her andtook Urooj and her other siblings under its humane folddriven by passion and warmth to train unschooled childrenengaged in home-based craft production and preparethem to join regular schools. Urooj besides workingfrom home for multi-million jeans trade, now plansto join class third of the nearby Government-run schooland is getting equipped for this at the European Unionfunded learning centre called Bharat Janata School thatthe BJSK runs near her colony. She can now not only putbuttons on jeans but has also learnt English alphabetwhere she can among other words spell J..E..A..N..S correctly.

This comes to her with a natural smile and glimmerof hope in eyes.


Not just this, the centre’s initiative has brought a newconsciousness to Urooj’s family and other householdslike hers. Now the residents of Janata Colony expectand look for things like ration card which many of themdon’t have. This they are seeking in order to have accessto Government schemes and assistance meant for thepoor. The centre helps them by making them aware oftheir entitlements and ways to reach and realize them.