Tribune News Service
Faridkot, January 16
It had all the trappings of a big, fat Punjabi wedding: a lavish spread, a series of pre-wedding functions and a glittering guest list, but what raised eyebrows was a group of schoolchildren collecting the trash generated by the high-profile guests.
Chidren collect garbage at the residence of CPS Mantar Singh Brar in Faridkot district
As 5,000-odd guests, including Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, ministers and other top brass, feasted at Chief Parliamentary Secretary Mantar Singh Brar’s residence in Faridkot’s Sandhwan village, several primary students scurried around in their uniforms collecting disposable plates, glasses, spoons and other trash.
The two dozen eight to thirteen year olds — all in the unmistakable maroon sweaters that are part of the school uniform in Punjab —were students of the Government Primary School at Faridkot’s Deviwala village. Brar’s personal assistant Harpinder Singh Brar is a teacher at the school.
School head teacher Lakhwinder Singh confirmed the absence of about 40 of the 196 students on Thursday. It is believed most of them were working as waste-pickers-cum-waiters at the function at Brar’s residence, about 12 km from their school.
Brar, Chief Parliamentary Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Department, said he was not aware of the children working as waste pickers at the function that was held ahead of his daughter’s wedding to be solemnised in Chandigarh on January 25.
“I hired a Barnala-based caterer to make the food arrangements for the function. I am not aware about the workers hired by the caterer,” said Brar, also the SAD(B) Kotkapura MLA.
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 in occupations such as the above. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, mandates free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of six and fourteen, but there was no voice of protest raised at the function where the guests included the state’s who’s who.
The guests included Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, Faridkot Deputy Commissioner Mohammed Tayyab, MLA Deep Malhotra, Senior Superintendent of Police Varinder Pal Singh, Rural Development and Panchayat Minister Surjit Singh Rakhra, Education Minister Sikander Singh Maluka, SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar, Irrigation Minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon and former education minister Avtar Brar.
District Education Officer Parminder Singh Brar said he had no information about schoolchildren doubling as waste pickers at the function at Brar’s residence.