Eight-year-old Basant and his friend Parvat (7) didn’t know that Friday was Children’s Day or that it was the birthday of India’s first prime minister. But the day was still was special. “There’s food at the back,” Parvat said, tugging Basant towards a table laden with snacks and cold drinks.
Part of the group of 25 children enrolled in Delhi Police’s initiative under the “Open Basic Education Programme”, Basant and Parvat had attended the first class on Friday at the Hazrat Nizamuddin police station. “The class was good. I could not understand everything that these people said. But it felt nice to go to ‘school’. They promised us they would allow us to paint in the next class,” Basant said.
Ask them where they are from and they promptly reply, “Rajasthan”. But any queries about their town, city or details of who their parents are, what they do and where they live evoke suspicious glances and evasive answers.
All that these two abandoned children, living at the Nizamuddin railway station, are ready to reveal is that one “Badku” beats them up if they don’t give him money every day. Ask Parvat what money he is talking about and how he gets it, he goes quiet. Basant stares at his friend silently and offers no explanation.
Senior police officers said the initiative is to engage street children like Basant and Parvat in education to direct their energies towards “more constructive” purposes.
DCP (Railways) Sanjay Bhatia said, “Street children are a neglected lot. We want to provide them an opportunity to study. Our four main agendas are to provide them free basic education; engage them in co-curricular activities such as painting, music and sports; hold weekly medical check-ups; and provide them refreshments.”
For now, the premises of the Hazrat Nizamuddin police station is doubling up as a ‘school’. Special teachers have been enlisted to teach these children, Bhatia said.
Police have also requested the Railways to allot a separate space to make the classes more formal.
“We will try to hold regular classes for these children. But the process has to be gradual. We do not wish to burden them. The move will also bring down crime in the area — most of the petty crimes at railway stations are committed by children,” Bhatia said.
The pilot project, if successful, will be implemented in other areas as well. “We will analyse the crime rate in a few months. If incidents of petty crimes do go down, then the model will be replicated elsewhere,” the officer said.
Welcoming the move, Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s Victim Assistance Programme manager Rakesh Senger said the initiative will also help project a positive image of police in the minds of these children.
“The terms we generally use for them — street children or abandoned kids — are usually not apt. Most of these children are not homeless.
They have families around. Those who don’t are trafficked here. Many are made to beg or become a part of organised crime. Their general perception about police is one of fear. So, this is a very welcome step,” Senger said.