“Goodmorning Madam,” I introduced myself to the Superintendent of the State After Care Home for girls.
“I am Vandana from the Institute of Hobbies and Creativity, my job is to conduct workshops on candle making, tie and dye, batik, cooking and baking, and pottery. I want to conduct a workshop for girls in your State After Care Home. It will be free of cost under our Social Awareness Project,” I said.
Mrs. Minal Srivastav, the Superintendent looked at me smiled. She gave me an encouraging smile as she gave me her approval.
The State After Care Home
The State After Care Home was a shelter home for girls from the age of 12 years to 18 years. It was run by the government. Girls from broken families, destitute, juvenile delinquents, orphans and runaway girls were given shelter in this Home.
The Home right was situated in the middle of the city of Meerut yet it was away from the humdrum of a busy life. The girls from disturbed families also stayed and were allowed to go home during the school’s vacation.
“The social situations of these girls are different from your other students Ms. Vandana,” said Mrs. Srivastav. “You have to be supportive and understanding to them they have all faced childhood traumas. You and your assisting staff need to handle them very cautiously.”
“Mrs. Srivastav please keep faith in us, we want to teach the girls this art so that they develop some interest and show their talent and skills. These activities will help release stress and will give them a sense of achievement.
We will take the best three girls for the advanced certificate course.”
“Ms. Vandana please come with your team from next week. Your timings will be from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Srivastav, for your support,” I felt sincerely grateful.
The Home had 70 girls. Thirty of them attended school and they were in various classes. 10 girls went for the computer course. 10 girls were preparing for their boards through National Open School and 20 girls were of the marriageable age of 18years.
The Home had a huge iron gate which was difficult to climb or cross and a huge campus. A female guard, a nurse, a cook, and a cleaning staff cum peon was the team of the Superintendent.
A visiting doctor and some teachers came to the Home at their allotted time. The rooms were clean, spacious and airy. The arrangement was basically dormitories with five beds in a room.
It had a hostel like feeling and appearance.
The girls were basically from the economically weaker sections. I looked at them. Such pretty, charming faces with hollow and sad eyes. Each face has seen trauma, undergone violence or hurt or abuse, physical or verbal.
Every child had a story to tell and pain to share, but to make them open up and talk to you was not easy. They seldom open up and disclose their thoughts and ideas to you, perhaps its the outcome of the torment and abrasion which is deeply cemented in them.
I started my class with candle making.
On my first day, I had 10 girls learning in the class. All of them were excited asking me questions and saying about the preference of their colors and designs.
It was in this class I took notice of a dusky chubby girl called Rakhi. She was full of curiosity and ideas. She was always accompanied by her friend Nasreen. Both of them took good interest in the workshop.
Vibrant candles were made by them which could adorn any candlelight dinner. It was the teamwork of Nasreen and Rakhi which was very positive.
Rakhi shared her story with me.
She was an adopted daughter of the Bajaj family in Kanpur. They owned a number of sari shops in Navin Market in Kanpur. She attended a good school. Rakhi was adopted by her childless parents from an orphanage at the tender age of two.
She recalled her childhood with a sweet smile, she had a good number of cousins and a big joint family. Unfortunately, Rakhi does not have any knowledge about her biological parents.
When she was 14 years old she eloped with her boyfriend. They were caught after 15 days. Rakhi’s parents refused to meet and accept her.
They broke all connections with her.
Rakhi had bought much disgrace to the family. Rakhi’s mother refused to meet her, though her father came to meet her twice in the last 5 years. She was kept in a Foster Home and after her case was closed she was transferred to State After Care Home, Meerut.
Rakhi wiped her tears as she said,
“I am still punished for my mistake.”
She asked me, “Is falling in love with someone such a big crime?
While walking out of the Home, Rakhi was in my thoughts. I was pondering that even in today’s modern era, a girl is not taken back into her family for a small mistake called love. Honor killing is still a part of modern India. Rakhi is lucky she is alive. She is still young and probably has a lot of chance to see the beautiful world and forget her sore.
The number of girls for cooking and baking class increased to 20. The girls were more enthusiastic about the cooking class where they would learn about different culinary skills. Here too I observed that Nasreen and Rakhi were inseparable. At times I would find them looking deeply into each other’s eyes, sometimes smiling shly at each other.
Nasreen came to me to share her story with me.
When I asked her for how long she was in the Home, she began her story. Her father Abdul was a rag picker and mother Moumina was a domestic helper. Moumina was crushed by a running bus on a cold winter night when Nasreen was barely 5 years old.
She would accompany her father in rag picking after her mother’s sudden demise. One day her father just disappeared and never came back. Nasreen doesn’t know whether he is alive or dead.
The family for whom her mother worked helped her get admission in Shelter Home for Children. It’s been a long time since she is a part of the Home. Nasreen had completed her class ten but doesn’t have any plans to study more.
She feels sad and trapped in the boundaries of the Home. One of the girls named Rekha commented, “You know Vandana Didi, Nasreen still searches in the garbage basket and eats when no one is looking.” Nasreen ran out of the room with tears in her eyes. Life can be so harsh for some people.
The psychological breakdown and childhood trauma has resulted in this habit of Nasreen piercing through the litter. Thinking about the lonely homeless souls of the Home, I came out of it.
I was a little early the next day for my workshop
The girls were having their morning assembly, I could hear the lovely song”Aae malik tere bande hum.”
Just as I was passing from the corridor, I caught the sight of Nasreen kissing Rakhi. It was not a friendly peck of two friends.
The time was 6 pm when my class of batik finally got over. My batik class consisted of 40 girls learning the technique.
Girls were so full of ideas that they wanted to open a boutique of batik saris and dress materials. One of them got a good idea of making batik wall hangings. Children if shown a positive direction have a greater enthusiasm to aim and achieve.
I saw Mrs. Srivastav sitting in her office. “Ms. Vandana you have infused new ideas in my girls,”
“Thank you, Ma’am, your girls are equally talented,” I replied and started hesitantly.
“Madam can I talk to you as I have a serious issue on my mind.”
“Please go ahead,” Mr.s Srivastav gave me a positive nod.
“Madam some of your inmates are getting attracted to each other,” I shared my fears with her.
“So what Ms. Vandana, they will not become pregnant,” her casual response gave me a jolt.
At that time, Mrs. Srivastav shared a sensitive fact with me. To me, it was a disturbing revelation but to the woman opposite me, it was an everyday affair. She said in the same casual tone, “Don’t worry just ignore them.”
“But Madam it’s not the case of pregnancy. There are other girls who deserve to have the right knowledge regarding these issues,” I was feeling agitated as I continued, “The young minds will get influenced, they should not be confused in any ways.”
This infuriated Mrs. Srivastav, keeping her hands on the table, she said, “Let me explain it to you M.s Vandana, the girls are basically homeless. They feel lonely, they too need a sense of belonging, emotional security, stability and someone to take care of while they are sick.
Managing a Home for destitutes is not so easy. Their psychological and emotional needs are different from mine and yours, they have had a traumatic past.”
“I understand Madam but what is wrong cannot be right, you have to teach them,”
I chose to remain undeterred by her excuse.
“See Vandana people who stay with family have a different approach. You mix with society, every day you go out of your house, you interact with people from all sections of the society but this is not the case with my girls.
They stay indoors and only a few go out for school and other works. You can rightly compare the State After Care Home with a prison to some extent.
These are all situational behaviours which will change when the time comes.
I hope the things are now clear to you,” Mrs. Srivastav concluded.
“Perhaps you might be right in your views but they surely need counselling,” I was still adamant.
“Look, Ms. Vandana, the State has provided shelter, food and education for the homeless children. Our resources are limited but our duties to build a just and compassionate society is limitless,” she shared her limitations with me.
“Madam, can I take the responsibility of Rakhi and Nasreen? I will teach and empower them to become trainers in my institute. This way, I will try to motivate and bring a positive change in them so they build a meaningful future for themselves,” I proposed.
“Vandana, I am so grateful to you for making an effort. This will help rehabilitate my girls in society,” she stated happily.
Every child has the right to grow up in a supportive, protective and caring environment that promotes his or her full potential.