Guwahati: His name is Salman Khan and he earns a mere fifty rupees each day. This is not the story about Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, but an 11-year-old street beggar at Guwahati Railway Station. His friends call him the superstar of streets because of his jolly and positive nature. Salman started his journey on streets of Guwahati when he was merely five years after losing both of his parents.
Like Salman, there are thousands of others who have made the city streets both their home and workplace. The homeless, people without shelter, are often denied their dignity as a Human Being. Homelessness accompanied by poverty forces people to live without proper shelter, house, food, child care, health care, and education. This section of people is also most vulnerable to violence by any muscle power. Media reports of a growing economy and low unemployment mask a number of important reasons why homelessness persists.
At a visit to a health camp near Guwahati railway station organized for the homeless people of Guwahati organized by SSTEP (Society for Social Transformation & Environment Protection) sponsored by Action Aid, Project coordinator, informed that the camp is held for last three years every week. About 50-60 people visit the camp where doctors attend them and medicines are made available to them for free. Sometimes more than 100 visitors get medicines in this camp.
“I want to study and learn to stitch and after that, I want to teach my brother and sister”, says a hopeful Manju Kumari, one of the beneficiaries of Local NGO’s educational and vocational studies programme for poor people. She began begging on the streets at an age of seven and it has been five years since she is earning her living by seeking alms on the streets.
But the positive fact is that the state of these children is gradually improving due to constant efforts of NGOs and clubs. The Rotary Club of Assam has given a new ray of hope to the poor, hapless street children in the state by taking up their upliftment in a big way. It is providing them with educational opportunities and vocational studies so that they can look forward to a better life.
It is a new beginning for the street children of Assam. The education for these children was a remote possibility- something that they could only dream of. Today these dreams have come true. They are happy to be at the Club’s school, getting educational and vocational training, hoping to have a realistic chance of fulfilling their ambitions.
According to the latest survey by the Central women and Child development wing, an average 175 of them dying every day, five percent of them working as labourers and their rights trampled without any qualm, the children are in a shocking condition in Assam where grinding poverty has also thrown street children into peddling illegal drugs. Even if they become aware of their rights, they have seldom anything to do as they have already been sucked into the grind mill, a UNICEF's Assam representative said.
According to UNICEF statistics, over 40 percent children below three years are underweight while 76.7 Percent of the children are anemic. The 2001 census also revealed that 54 Percent children between five years and 14 years were child labourers. Around 53.4 Percent of girls were also found by the 2002-04 district level household survey to be married off before they attained age 18 years.
Another persistent problem is of Street children commonly involved in the petty theft were now selling illegal drugs such as marijuana commonly known as ganja. The state's Juvenile Justice board has records of several cases of drug peddling by street children 80 percent of whom are engaged in petty crimes. With their basic needs remaining unfulfilled, the children are easy victims of temptation for food and toys and therefore resort to petty crimes to acquire them, There were instances of children being compelled to earn even if it involved illegal mean. The runaway children, who hung around train stations and bus stands, also fall prey to unscrupulous persons who use them for selling illegal substances, begging or pick-picketing.
Among all these vulnerabilities, there can be some positive rays of hope. Directorate of Census Operation, Assam is all set to conduct a census on homeless. Also in response to a PIL filed in the Supreme Court on November 27, 2010, the court had directed all the State Governments in the country to take immediate necessary steps so that no life is lost due to non-availability of night shelters. It is reported that the Social Welfare department along with the local NGOs is working on the implementation of the order. Civil society needs to monitor that the homeless are at least safe at night and a long-term policy must be adopted to get rid of the problem.