JUST a little over seven years ago, the Supreme Court ordered the Centre and states to ensure capping of all borewells so that these don’t become death traps for children. This October, six-year-old Komal Meena of Alwar in Rajasthan became the latest child to die from a fall in one, after efforts to save her for eight days, in perhaps the longest such rescue operation. He doesn’t keep track of such news developments, admits Prince. The child whose rescue from a borewell changed TV news in India also tries to think as little as he can of that July day, 10 years ago.
However, there is one detail that always haunts the now 15-year-old, one that the Supreme Court underlined and one that could have saved Komal. “It’s because things aren’t done properly that such incidents happen,” he says. “Main jab gira tab bhi borewell ke upar khaali bori rakhi thi. Main choohe ko pakad raha tha, aur bori pe ja pahuncha, aur gir gaya (When I fell too, the hole was covered with just a jute sack. I was chasing a mouse, and ended up on the sack and fell in the borewell).”
The fame he earned after his 48-hour, live-TV ordeal in the 60-ft-deep borewell has long worn off, barring some vestiges, such as the private school he now goes to unlike other children in his village, Haldheri, in Kurukshetra, Haryana. Since the school is 4 km from the village, Prince, a Class 9 student, wakes up at 6.30 am to be ready in time for the school van, which makes its way down the kuchcha roads to his village just to pick him up.
Prince’s father Ram Chandra is a daily wager, earning Rs 300 a day working in farms. Various NGOs and news channels announced monetary aid for Prince after the incident. He says the family received only Rs 3 lakh, most of which was spent making their home pucca, while the rest of the money never came.
The villagers allege Prince’s mother ran away with some of the money when she left him and his father four years ago. However, Prince doesn’t believe this, saying the money was stolen by “middlemen”, rather the “adhikaaris (officials) who control the system”.
He doesn’t want to dwell on his mother, he adds. “Ab to yaad nahin aati hai. Pehle main sochta tha uske bare mein, gaaon mein log baatein banaate rehte hain uske bare mein, ki woh kisi aur aadmi ke saath bhaag gayi. Main to ab usko bhool gaya hoon (I don’t miss her anymore. Earlier I used to think about her, people in the village gossip about her, that she eloped with some other man. I have forgotten about her now).”
Prince’s stepmother Mamata, sitting on a broken plastic chair held together with electric wires, says they are hopeful of him finishing his studies and getting a job. Picking out stones from the rice she will be cooking for dinner for the family of five (including Prince’s stepbrothers), she says, “Bas ek hi ummeed hai, yeh padh le, iski naukri lag jaaye, toh humara kuch bhalaa hoga. Aise to hum paanch logon ka parivar hai, aur roz ki aamdani 250-300 rupaiye hai (We have only one hope, that Prince finishes his education, gets a job. We are a family of five and earn only Rs 250-300 daily). The earnings depend on the contractor.”
Prince’s father Ram Chandra also tells him education is very important. If he himself hadn’t been illiterate, he would have gone to court to get what was promised to the family after the borewell incident, Ram Chandra says. “Humein aath lakh bola gaya tha, par mila sirf teen lakh hi (We were promised Rs 8 lakh, but we got only Rs 3 lakh). It’s difficult to even make ends meet.”
Looking at the trophies he received after his rescue, now lined up along the cracking walls of their house, Prince smiles ironically, “What use are these, if one doesn’t even have a home?” He worries about the decrepit walls all the time, adds the 15-year-old. “The house can collapse any time.”
The last hope that remains is the Army. Prince says he was promised a job in the forces once he turns 18. “Fauj mein naukri karna chahta hoon, desh ki raksha karoonga (I want to join the Army, fight for the country).” He hopes a job for him would also mean that his father can take the occasional day off from work.
However, Prince fears that he may not be able to cope with school for too long. “Sabhi bachche kaafi paise se mazboot hain wahaan (All the children there are very rich).” People tell him he is brave, having survived those 48 hours. He smiles at the thought. Besides the sack that gave away and the fall, there is one other thing Prince remembers about the borewell: the cockroaches, which kept crawling up to him. “I was so small. Mitti daal kar unko chupaa de raha tha (I kept covering them with mud).”