By admin       2017-11-27

To the extreme south of Telangana near Kurnool is the Jogulamba Gadwal district. The district is most popular for producing cotton in the state. The cotton produced here, particularly in Gattu Mandal is classified as a high-quality cotton seed, owing to the soil condition, water and rainfall. The cotton production has been so good that in the last five years, the district has seen a spurt of cotton mills, resulting in almost every farmer producing cotton avoiding other cash crops. In the district, there are roughly around 25 cotton mills. The farmers in this mandal are regarded as wealthy farmers by the peasants from the neighbouring mandal and districts. However, this thriving cotton production which has benefitted the farmers as they get cash beforehand from the seed companies, has also shown its adverse impact in immensely affecting the literacy rate in the state. According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate in Gadwal is 60.23%. Gattu Mandal in particular, has the lowest literacy rate in the state, and a major reason for this is believed to be the cotton production in the state. Farmers force their children to drop out of school for at least two months a year, as most of them cannot hire labour. Cotton production requires huge labour during pollination, which happens for 60 days. Penchikalapadu, a small village with a population of 2,362 (according to 2011 census), has been facing the wrath of this cotton boom, which deprives their children of education and results in child labour. To give an example of how the mandal is plagued with the problem of illiteracy: The upper primary school in the Penchikalapadu has a strength of 248 students. Of these 248 students, only 80-90 students turned up at school during the months of August and September, while the rest dropped out of school for two months to help their parents in seed cotton pollination. G Muralidhar, who has been the headmaster of the school for eight years says, “School children dropping out of school for two months is quite common. We can’t go hard on their parents. They say that they are debt ridden and ask if we will help in repaying their loans. We really don’t have a proper solution other than counselling the parents. They, too, say that they want to send their children to school but are forced to make them work.” “Parents say that it is only for two months that the children drop out of school – but they don’t realise that it’s not as simple as that. These students miss classes and we don’t take any special classes to cover the portion which they missed. Hence, most of these students are ill qualified for their class standards,” the headmaster laments. The children who drop out of school to help their parents, work from 6am to 5pm every day. Padma, a farmer says, “For three months, the only time we go home is to sleep, and then early morning, after cooking, we rush to the fields. Cotton production is a herculean task. Even if we don’t work for a day, our crops will fail.” Acknowledging the critical issue of child labour and education, MV Foundation (MVF) – an NGO working for child education – designed a programme in the district by deputing volunteers, who work as motivators, and help in stopping child labour and counsel the parents to send their kids to school regularly. Their primary job is to stop the children from dropping out from school especially during the cotton harvest. Child Marriage : Apart from the problem of child labour and school dropouts, another major crisis in the district is the child marriages. Cotton production requires manpower, and farmers who are wealthy enough employ labour by providing them a daily wage of Rs 300-350, and three meals a day. Poorer farmers who can’t afford labour though turn to family – and when there aren’t enough family members to help, they resort to child marriage. Parents look for a bride for their sons, and once the children are married, the bride works on the farm, says Pasha, one of the MVF volunteers, working in Penchikalapadu. “We have been trying to stop these child marriages. But these parents are clever. They don’t inform anyone – not even their relatives – and go to some temple in a neighbouring village and get the wedding done,” Pasha says. The girls, he says, are usually 14-15 years of age. Chakali Srinivas, an education activist, working with MVF says that child marriage is the latest crisis which has emerged out of the cotton production in the mandal. “During Karthika maasam (November-December), the marriage season, we have to maintain a vigil,” he says. Recalling their efforts last year to stop child marriages, he says, “Last year, 192 child marriages happened. Out of them, we could stop only 48 weddings with the help of local public representatives and Childline.” Varsha, a child activist, who is working in the area, says, “This cotton production results in early school drop outs. If the girl drops out of school, their parents borrow money and marry them off.”

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