Pavel* is 15 years old and lives in Hazaribagh with his parents. “We live in one room, where I sleep on a bed and my parents sleep on the floor.”
“I had an elder brother. There is a long story about him. Two years ago, he used to work at a shop; from there, he stole Tk.200,000.00 and ran away. Since then, we do not have any contact with him. We do not know where he is. Previously, he worked at a shop for 7 or 8 years. After that, he joined another hardware shop. On the first day, he took Tk.10,000.00 as advance payment. On the next day, he took Tk.200,000.00 from them and ran away. My brother was not a bad guy; he used to say five times prayers a day regularly. But he started mingling with bad companions and became addicted to drugs.
My mother could not take that shock and had a stroke. Now, she is paralysed. She cannot move one side of her body. And because of my mother’s illness, I left the school when I was in class 3 and I never went back. From that time, I started working. If my elder brother were with us, maybe I could continue my study. I earn Tk.7,000.00-8,000.00 per month.
I think every child should continue their study. I want to go to school; want to live in a good place and have a better life. School can teach us so many things. Without study, I’ll not be able to get a decent job. A school certificate is needed for getting a good job. Because of my lack of education, I lost a great opportunity. A few days ago, I had a chance to join a big company. But as I could not continue my study, I lost a great opportunity to do such a beautiful job.
I have lost the opportunity of education but I get the chance to play. At the end of this road, there is a house; we play on the roof of that house. Previously, I used to roam around like a free bird but now, I cannot do that. I feel bad for that. Sometimes my body wants to rest and I don’t want to go to work. I wish I could enjoy the holiday on Friday. I do not like to work on that day. If my factory would be closed on Friday I could spend time playing.
When my mother’s health condition was good, my father used to do the business of buying and selling animal fat. He used to buy animal fat from different places; after that, he used to melt them by heat in drum and then used to sell a large amount of animal fat. The price of one drum of animal fat was Tk.200,000.00. In that business, my father had a partner. One night, my father was with his partner. Suddenly, one drum of fat was stolen. Although my father was with that man he still accused my father for stealing the drum. Then he accused me and my brother of stealing. All of us went to him and said that we did nothing but he did not listen to us, we had to pay Tk.200,000.00. He raised the money for this by selling 30 decimal of land of our village. I was seven years old.
After paying the compensation, my father started working as a leather contractor. He used to collect the raw hides; he used to dry them and used to sell the dry leathers to the factory owner. He used to dry 500-900 pieces of leather at a time. The rawhide seller used to collect money at the end of the week; after paying his payment, my father used to spend the rest of the money to maintain family expenses. I used to work with my father.
After my mother had the stroke, she was very anxious about my brother. All the time she used to ask about him. Our village is a very bad place. In one plot there are six houses. The last one is our house. Beside our house, there is a canal. We know that there are so many bad things (ghostly) in that canal. One night, while my mother was sleeping, something beat her a lot. My mother cannot tell us what it was. She only could see something very tall was beating her brutally. After that incident, my mother became paralysed.
When we had to take my mother to the hospital her treatment was Tk.300,000.00-400,000.00. For more than two years, we could not pay the rent. The landlord is a powerful man and beats my father. We have to pay more than Tk.100,000.00 as the house rent; for that reason, the landlord does not let us leave this place. Only for that reason, we are staying and working here; otherwise, we would move to our village.
Now, I am a leather worker where I was supposed to be in school and my father has become a rickshaw puller. My father and I are trying hard to maintain the family expenses with our little income. Besides the family expenses, we need to spend money on my mother’s medicines.
My mother’s brothers are rich but they do not take care of her. They used to visit us during our good days but now, as we are poor, they do not look in on us. We have lands in our village but cannot go there for the dues of house rent. This is our main problem as we do not have any loans anymore. All the debt has been repaid. Once we pay the entire rent, we’ll enjoy a Bindas life [a free life that is full of joy].
My mother is well now. She can stand up but cannot walk. After her illness, we brought her to Dhaka to stay with us. Initially, my mother became bedridden. She has been suffering from her illness for three years. For her treatment, we visited lots of Fakirs [traditional spiritual healers] and doctors.
Every year, my father needs to take intravenous saline. Because previously, he used to take marijuana regularly. Now, he has left that addiction. Who will pay for his addiction? When he used to take marijuana, he became sick. My father is a strange man. For his sickness, he did not need any medicine. Marijuana was his medicine. He used to suffer from coughing; once he took marijuana, he used to get relief from coughing.
“We used to save money at a Shomity [cooperative]. We almost saved Tk.150,000.00 there. But one day, that Shomity ran away with all the money. That Shomity was situated in the Hazaribagh area. Every month, we used to save Tk.1,500.00. If they would not run away with our money, we could pay our house rent; and once we could pay the rent, we would move to our village. In that Shomity, we used to save money in my mother’s account.
I also worked in the footwear factory. I used to make the boots which are used by the police. I did not want to start working at such an early age. Because of my mother’s illness, I started working. I wanted to stay in my village, continue my study and learn something.
I cannot live without work. If I do not do work what will happen to my family? If I do not go to the factory for 15 days I’ll lose Tk.4,000.00. I like this job. If I want food I’ll have to work. If I didn’t work, the situation would be worse. Because of my work, our financial condition has been improved. I have been working in the leather sector for eight years and have lost many opportunities. I miss my village relatives so much.
When my grandfather was alive my father used to take care of his properties. He had many lands and 20 buffalos. My father has five brothers. After the two months of my grandfather’s death, my uncles threw my father in the canal by binding his hands. My aunt’s husband rescued and sent him to Dhaka. For my mother’s treatment, my father sold many lands to my uncles. My grandfather gave most of his properties to my father. The rest of the properties was divided among my uncles.
When moving to Dhaka, my aunt gave some money to my father. After coming to Dhaka, my father started a business in partnership with that money. When I came to Dhaka, I was two years old. Since then we have been living here. We visit our village once a year. In the village, we always stay at our second aunt’s house. She loves us very much. I feel so good. I do not like Dhaka.
When my mother became sick, my father did not know how to cook. During that time, we used to buy Khichuri three times a day from the restaurant. One plate of Khichuri used to cost Tk.25.00. That process was continued for three months. Now, my father has learned how to cook.
During the lockdown, we did not starve; but we had a very difficult time. During that time people were not allowed to go out; so, my father could not find any passengers for his rickshaw. But I had a job. For almost two months we had to face that problem. We used our little savings for one month; after that, we had a serious financial crisis for two months. But we did not take any loans. We promised ourselves that even if we do not have food; we’ll not take any loan with interest.
Now I am living my life with the skill of leather processing. I know everything about leather processing. At first, I started working at a chemical shop with my brother. After working there for two years, I started working at a leather factory.
At work, I got many cuts and wounds because of carrying heavy goods on my head, often I suffer from shoulder aches. This is a risky job. I need to process the leather; after that need to carry the processed leather on my head to load the vehicle with leather. Again I need to unload the vehicles. These tasks are very difficult. Sometimes, I do toggling under the direct sun. Each day I need to work for two to three hours under the direct sun. I do not feel uncomfortable due to the smell of leather. Medicines reduce the smell of leather. These leathers are used for making jackets.
My father helped me find a job. My father told me there is no point in sitting idle; so start working. Now, I do lots of works; like dyeing, drying, placing the leathers in the big drum, bringing dye or oil, using medicines, etc. But the process of using acid has to be done under the supervision of seniors. I do whatever my company tells me to do.
My company instructs me when, which and how much chemical has to be used. The right amounts of chemicals are arranged in polythene bags. I just open the bag and use the chemicals as per instructions. The drying machine squeezes the leather and drains out excess water. After that we need to hang the leather on the hanger for three days, then we fold the leather and use a machine to make the leather soft and we toggle the leather on the roof under the sun and polish the leather by using foam (sponge). I work as a helper to use the machine.
There are no fixed working hours for me. But I must enter the factory by 8am. After that, my return will depend on the work pressure. Sometimes, I can come back home in the afternoon; sometimes in the evening or sometimes I need to work for the whole night. Today I went to Hemayetpur at 6am returned home at 12pm. At least twice a month, I need to work for the whole night. I work seven days a week, but if I need leave I can take half a day.
Sometimes, while returning from the night shift, I fall down the stairs and get injured. At first, I cannot feel anything; but after waking up from sleep I can feel the pain. While carrying heavy leathers, I fell down the stairs several times. Yesterday, I slipped down while carrying wet leather to the roof. During that time, I was wearing a torn sandal and that’s why the accident happened. Luckily, I dropped down the leathers from my head; otherwise, a big accident could have happened. Because of carrying heavy loads on my head, I suffer from shoulder aches. During work, sometimes I also need to use a sharp blade, knife, or scissors; because of that, sometimes my fingers are cut. My fingertips have become rough.
The smell of gum is unbearable. The workplace is full of leather dust. It becomes difficult to breath in the drum. While working, the drum makes a loud sound. We are not allowed to talk while working; if we talk and make fun, the owner uses very bad language like Mother Chod, Mangar pola etc. against us.
I like any kind of job in this sector. I am not afraid of work; that’s why everything is easy for me. I like to do leather polishing. Because that work needs less physical effort; I just dip the foam (sponge) into the paint and move that foam on the leather and the work is done. We use different types of colours like black, red, etc. for polishing. We also use a machine to dye the leather.
I need to wake up very early in the morning and catch the bus for Hemayetpur at 6am. This is very painful for me.
My employer gets lots out of me with a minimum payment. He can force me to work for a long time, order me to do any work, bringing tea and other refreshments for him and send me to do the shopping for his house. It is easy to handle the children; the children will follow their instructions without saying anything. They treat us like a bull. Sometimes they do not pay the payment properly. By cheating us they will have extra money and with that money, they will buy either ice cream for their kids or cigarette for themselves.
My father receives my salary. But when I need Tk.100.00 or Tk.200.00, he gives me. I get a monthly salary. If I need Tk.500.00 or Tk.1,000.00 in advance, the owner gives that money from my salary. Mainly, my income is spent on paying the house rent; sometimes, my father gives me money for purchasing shoes, pants, dresses, etc. or for cutting hair at the salon. Besides these, during the festivals, I like to buy new watches, sunglasses, etc. During those times I take money from my father.
My parents consider my opinion. On Fridays, many people cook beef or chicken at their houses; I also request my father to buy meat on Fridays. If I want to eat something, my father tries to meet my demand. Besides, I am also sensible, I only demand that thing that is affordable. My father is the head of our family and mainly, he is the decision-maker.
I do not have any dreams. Just I wish I could live in my village. I had a dream of being a car driver since my childhood. When I was a child, I had lots of dreams; because of my mother’s illness, all the dreams had been ruined. If we had savings during my mother’s illness, my dream would become true.
I do not have any hope. I am destined to live a life of hand-to-mouth. No wish will be fulfilled in my life. But I have a dream that one day, I’ll go to school; not in Dhaka but in our village. I need to continue my education to live a better life. After leaving the school, I have understood the values of education.”
*All names have been changed