Instead of going to school, then 10-year-old Neeraj Murmu went to labour in the mines to earn money for his poor tribal family in Duliakram village, Giridih district of Jharkhand.
Poverty had forced many such rural kids to quit school and toil in the local mica mines. A 2016 survey revealed that about 20,000 kids worked in mica mines in Jharkhand and in neighbouring Bihar. Some were as young as five years, boys and girls, among them many school dropouts, too. Besides stunting their future career, this hazardous occupation also afflicted their health.
In 2011, activists from Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi, selected this village to become a Bal Mitra Gram (BMG) (Child Friendly Village). Promoting child-centric rural development, BMG ensures kids are not employed, married or exploited. Instead, it provides them with quality education by empowering their parents and the communities.
Neeraj was thus enrolled in the local government school in the 8th grade. Two years later, he joined the BBA’s Yuva Mandal (youth group) and began rescuing other child labourers and enrolling them in schools. He also began to address many socio-economic problems affecting his village. He helped to bring electricity to his village, got gas connections for the marginalized, and installed and repaired hand pumps.