If Damu's path to their meeting was from the bottom up, Nandana's was from the top down. Her father Pattabhi Rama Reddy is an activist and an artist. Her mother, the spirited and talented Snehalata Reddy refused to be silenced by Indira Gandhi's Emergency, was jailed and paid for her convictions with her life. The Reddys are fighters for justice. Nandana was a natural trade union lawyer. She saw Damu's energies and began using him for meeting workers at factory gates.
Saw them standing there:
And that was how it came about that he saw them standing there. They were bewildered children watching the talk above their heads among adults. Soon however, they were to change Damu and Nandana.
A little research showed that 40% of all work-force in India at that time was made up of children. And yet, even the rights that workers enjoyed slipped past them. Unlike adult workers, who usually had families, these children were often from the streets, abused and kicked around.
Damu began organising children of Bangalore's streets into groups where they could share their experiences. Each child was living through a hell as a given, from which there was no escape. Damu decided to sublimate their miseries by turning their experiences into a composite play.
In 1984, Damu's children staged their play for Ramakrishna Hegde, Chief Minister of Karnataka. "It was a compelling narration of the horrors working children face," recalls Damu. "A young boy acts out all his agonies. He braves them all because of a will to live but the odds against him keep increasing. The climax was when he couldn't cope any more-- we had him run across to the CM, tug at his sleeve and ask, "Sir, is there nothing you can do for me?"". Hegde was in tears. So was Rajiv Gandhi, when the children at Hegde's behest, staged the play again a few months later in Delhi.
The neglected Pandava:
Wheels of India's ponderous state began to move. The Gurupada Swamy Committee was set up to draft a bill to protect children's rights. A law was enacted in 1986. It is not without its flaws, but India was a pioneer nation to focus on the plight of children.
Damu and Nandana had established The Concerned for Working Child [CWC] in 1980 to focus on this neglected area. By 1986 they had caused the parliament to pass a bill. That raised awareness about children's plight all around. The press began to cover the issue. Children had come into focus.