At the age of eight, Gopala Krishna’s feet seem to barely touch the floor when he sits in front of his family’s electric auto. Yet, positioning himself at the edge of the seat, he drives through the roads of Chandragiri mandal in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district in his school uniform, appearing to navigate the auto with ease. The eight-year-old has been undertaking the precarious task to support his family’s business selling pulses and other groceries in remote villages around their home, as both his parents, Papi Reddy and Revathi, are visually impaired. Videos showing the eight-year-old boy driving the auto, with his father and two younger brothers as passengers, have gone viral. Bystanders are heard asking his father about the boy’s safety, to which he replies that they have been left with no other option, due to the couple’s disability and financial difficulties.
Since the video went viral, government officials have visited the family and offered to help with the three siblings’ education. Gopala Krishna’s brothers are of ages five and three years. Women Development and Child Welfare Department Project Director for Chittoor district Naga Sailaja told TNM that the government has offered to place the three kids at a Child Care Institution (CCI) run by an NGO at a nearby location. “The parents have asked for ten days’ time. They said they cannot suddenly part with the children. Especially since they are dependent on the eldest son for livelihood, they wanted time to think it through,” she said.
Papi Reddy told the media that he and his wife receive Rs 3,000 each as disability pension from the government, but as the amount is insufficient, they have also been selling groceries in the auto, which they purchased with the help of a loan. While they had earlier hired a driver, due to the financial crisis amid the pandemic, they could not afford the driver’s wages. Their son Gopala Krishna learned to operate the vehicle from drivers in their village and began working as schools were shut due to COVID-19. With schools reopening in Andhra Pradesh from August 16, he is now back to attending the local government school, but drives the auto after school hours, managing his studies simultaneously, his father said.
After their son’s videos received attention, the parents have sought support from the government. Project Director Naga Sailaja said that the District Collector has approved their request for a plot and house under a government housing scheme. For now, officials have instructed the neighbourhood Anganwadi worker to ensure that the family receives meals, she added. “We will return to discuss the matter with the parents in ten days. If they agree, we will consider placing the kids in a CCI, and see if adoptions or any other caretaking possibilities can be explored,” she said. Officials also cautioned the parents to not allow the child to drive the auto. “They said it has become inevitable as they were in a dire financial situation. We told them it was wrong and unsafe and he shouldn’t be allowed to drive the vehicle,” she said.
Meanwhile, the TDP has also pledged to support Gopala Krishna’s school education and to help his family pay the EMIs for the e-auto through a fundraiser.
Ask him to pack his bag because we're getting him admitted to a school soon. We'll also come together to help his family cover the EMI cost of the electric auto through a fundraiser towards which @JaiTDP pledges to contribute Rs. 50,000/- https://t.co/Q9q3F7maZE— Lokesh Nara (@naralokesh) September 3, 2021