Monthly Archives: June 2018


Helen Kellar

Fear, Foothpaths & Football- Mary Fights Back With Her Love For The Game

Born and raised in Mumbai’s Matunga, Mary has been living on the streets with the threat of eviction looming over her life from a very young age. Despite being eligible for rehousing, everyday poses a new fear. Amidst the odds of no permanent home, looking for new homes everyday – one day living under a tree and then next day some place else, changing schools based changing locations, poor access to nutrition and basic hygiene, Mary, through her love and dedication for football, made her way to becoming a football ranker in Maharashtra, and dreams of representing India one day.

Here’s the story of Mary Prakash Naidu whose kickoff with football gives her hope for a life off the streets, someday.

A life no less ordinary

17-year-old Mary Prakash Naidu is no stranger to fame. As one of Maharashtra’s top 20 female footballers, she has been playing for the Mumbai District Football Association and taken part in many tournaments so far. In 2017, she was felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi during the FIFA U-17 World Cup as part of the Centre’s Mission 11 Million Programme, an initiative to encourage football playing in schools. Mary had the best record in ball dribbling and shooting (only 13 seconds) at the trials for this event. She also got to meet her favourite player Sunil Chhetri.

The press flocked around us after the event. Some ministers reached out to us and assured help, but it has been months now and there has been no change in our situation,” says her father Prakash Naidu, a contractual staff working with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

The state at home

The street on which Mary lives. The bamboo poles on the right are what is left of her home in the face of yet another eviction.

The ‘situation’ is the state of homelessness and deprivation that the family has been facing for years now. For over 20 years, the family has been living on the streets in Matunga (Mary was born here), with the threat of eviction looming large over their life, even though they possess documents before the state cut-off date that make them eligible for rehousing. “I am not at ease even when I am playing. I keep thinking of my father at work, and my mother and two sisters alone at home. What if the bulldozers were to arrive?” she says.
Before the felicitation, Mary recalls the detailed rehearsal and the way they were instructed on how to receive their prize. “I was very excited and a little nervous,” she said. No one at the event, however, spoke about the challenges being faced by the likes of players like Mary, their state of housing, or the demand for and lack of playing spaces.

Evicted at will

On the day we meet Mary, the family has moved all their possessions from their makeshift structure to a spot beneath a tree nearby—there has been talk of an impending eviction again.

Mary huddles near their household possessions with her mother and sister

These threats have rapidly increased in frequency in the last eight years. “We have lost too many things to repeated evictions already,” says Mary. Two trophies stand gleaming, and Mary points out that these are just the few they have been able to save. “During an eviction, we lost a bagful of my trophies. My standard X books and certificates were also taken away,” she said. A wall of their house, comprising of a flex printed and bound with narrow wooden boards, flaps and falls face-down in the breeze. It’s a gigantic poster announcing Mary’s felicitation by the Prime Minister.

One of the walls of Mary’s house, a flex poster celebrating her felicitation. The walls around the neighbourhood are full of such posters about Mary.

Making room for play

Mary was introduced to various sports—karate, football, hockey, and boxing—about six years ago. Her interest in football grew as she got to know more about the game. That was about two years ago. At that time, there was only a boys football team in the area and she joined them. As her interest in the game developed, her practice sessions grew longer and she started playing at the nearby Khalsa College grounds every now and then with the support of a non-profit organisation. ‘’We play in between the houses often, as it’s not safe for girls to venture out here and there. Due to the lack of space the football gets spoilt easier; often it enters someone’s house, smashing into some items, and we get a round of scolding. No one’s ever stopped us though,” she smiles and says.

Mary enjoys a game of football whenever she can.

No respite from daily woes

There are no water facilities in the area. A few taps existed earlier but they have now broken, forcing the families to walk a long distance, queue up for water and carry it back. A pay-and-use public toilet nearby is accessed by the community. No formal electricity connections exist here either. Some tapped lines provide temporary relief. “We placed forward our demand for housing and a playing ground for the children. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis even sent a letter about our housing situation to the concerned ministry, but life is still the same here,” says Mary’s father.
Given their state of housing, Mary finds it difficult to study. Sometimes she sits under a tree nearby and tries to concentrate, but it’s very difficult to study for more than half an hour to one hour without getting interrupted. What hasn’t helped is the number of times she has needed to change schools, based on the changing fortunes of the family, and the help they have received from others. The family’s diet is also sparse. “As an emerging football player, she should get nutritious food. But how will I be able to afford it,” rues her father.

Where Children Play Football

From boys in juvenile homes breaking the shackles of a life of crime, girls in Jharkhand fighting gender inequality and child marriage to children choosing a life off the street, the rise of football in India is changing the lives of girls and boys alike. With the upcoming FIFA World Cup, one can’t help but mirror the mood of young footballers across the bylanes and beaches of India, as they await this years most popular sporting event.

In a country where cricket is a religion, will India ever learn to love football? Here are images of children across India, a large population of the millions of followers across the world, who exemplify just how much the country loves this sport.

In alleyways and bylanes

Photo Credits: Outlook Traveller

On streets…

Photo Credits: Unknown

And off the sidewalk

Photo Credits: Chandan Khanna

Outside shops..

Photo Credits: Saumalya Ghosh Photography

And inside school.. 

Photo credits: Project Khel

On the beach

Photo Credits: Jisan Flickr

And off the railway tracks…

Photo Credits: Unknown

Outside abandoned homes..

Photo Credits: Better Photography

And temple walls

Photo Credits: Unknown

Under the sun..

Photo Credits: BBC

And a cloudy sky… 

Photo Credits: Unknown

On railways tracks… 

Photo Credits: Unknown

And on the field…

Photo Credits: Diwakar Prasad/Hindustan Times 

In conflict zones

Photo Credits: Mukhtar Khan/AP

And in hilly areas …

Photo Credits: Unknown

In shorts

Photo Credits: Ayanava Sil Photography

And skirts…

Photo Credits: Yuwa

And in robes…

Photo credits: The Flapper Life

With friends..

Photo Credits: Better Photography

And teammates..

Photo Credits: Tanzeel Ur Rehman / Cover Asia Press

Simply, for the love of the game. 

Photo Credits: Shoumik Kar

From The Streets To the Street Child World Cup- In Conversation With Footballer Kannandos

More than 200 young people from across the world headed for Moscow in advance of the World Cup 2018 to play football and speak out on street children’s rights at the Street Children’s World Cup. Amongst them was Kannados Dasaradhan, a young boy from Chennai, who ran away from home at 7 years and made his way back to a life off the streets, with the help of his favourite sport – football.

In conversation with young Kannandos, whose ultimate goal wasn’t only a trophy, but getting off the streets, expressing how sports and a level playing field are effective goal keepers for some of the most stubborn social problems across the world.

1. Tell us about your life. What was it like back home when you where younger? Why did you run away from home?

I was the first born child to my parents in Vaniambadi, Vellore. I saw a lot of violence and abuse at home. My father was an alcoholic and physically abused me frequently. The repeated quarrels between my parents affected my studies. I lacked interest in studying or going to school. Severe thrashing and verbal abuse by my father, and teachers at school, forced me to runway from my home when I was 7-8 year old.

2. Where did you runaway? What was life like on the street? How long did you spend living at the Railway station?

I boarded a train without buying a ticket and did not have any clue where I am going. I was just a small child alone and hungry on the train. Tired and exhausted I was looking out for something to eat and was given only leftover food from the railway pantry. If the cops or railway officials found me, they would kick me out of the train or use me to clean toilets and train floors. I was unable to say no to them. After reaching the Chennai central railway station, I continued my life on the railway platforms for 6 months…I was generally beaten up by the police for traveling without a ticket.

3. Narrate some of your experiences while living on the street and how you dealt with it?

As the police used to beat me occasionally, I disliked the railway station and roamed in and around it. Then I travelled in a train without a ticket and got down at Arakkonam junction. I hunted for jobs around the place, asked people whom I met, and finally I got the job of cleaning tea glasses with a tea shop near the railway station. I earned Rs.10 as a daily wage. After collecting Rs. 40 over four days, I moved on to Jonnarpet junction.

4. Who were your friends at the time? Were there any people you could depend on?

I made friends with a lot of children like myself, Pratap, Ravi, Balaji who were working to make a living – they were fruit sellers, chips vendors and drinking water packet vendors; I became associated with a group of children who were involved in stealing iron scrap. I was never dependent on anyone… Once I got my share of what we had stolen, I went my own way.

5. What made you move from your life on the street to a shelter home?

During a terrible monsoon in Chennai, the railway station got flooded, but I had no choice but to live at the station. The trains were not moving out, nor were they coming in…the station was almost at a standstill. This was the time when a volunteer from Karunalaya approached me and spoke to me. I got convinced to go along with the volunteer to the Karunalaya shelter. On reaching the shelter, I slept for the entire day…something I hadn’t done in a long time. I felt a sense of security that day.

6. How did you get convinced to go to school? How did life change?

I was counselled about the importance of education and motivated by the people at Karunalaya about the merits of attending school regularly. Though I was scared about how I could be punished at school, I decided to start going anyway. On a couple of instances, I was beaten by my school teacher and as a result, started bunking classes. I came back to Karunalaya, complained to them and refused to go back to school. I was counselled further on why attending school meant I had a future off the railway station. At first I struggled to be attentive in class from but later I grew interest in my studies and completed my 12th grade, and a course in Radiology. From stealing at Railway stations to feed myself, I now had an education degree. Life changed completely.

7. When did you play football for the first time? Describe how you felt that day?

I was enrolled at the Karunalaya Sports for Development Program in the year 2013 for the first time. At the time I felt unhappy because I had to run 10 laps during warm ups which was a difficult task. After I started playing the game of football all my unhappiness and irritation was relieved. Gradually, I took a keen interest in football…I began to love it!

8. How did you get access to a football field? Who trained you? When did you realize that you want to grow up and play football?

Many children at Karunalaya were preparing for the Street Child World Cup 2014. I too was selected for the same, and got access to the football field frequently, to play. I was coached by Mr. Aldroy, a licensed coach. It was while I was watching the India Super League, that I was even more inspired to play football. The eminent players at the ISL made me dream of becoming the super man of soccer someday.

9. Where is your family today? Do they know of your accomplishment of making it to the Street Child World Cup?

I have lost both my parents. I am alone with my younger brother who stays at Karunalaya. My younger sister is being taken care of by my grandmother (father’s mother) and she lives in my native place Vaniyambadi. Yes, my brother and sister are aware of my visit to the World Cup.

10. Tell us about your journey with football and how you got selected for the Street Child World Cup. What was it like going to Moscow?

My interest in football grew after I was put face to face with the sport at Karunalaya. I took to the field and acquired the relevant skills to improve my game. I was made the Captain of Team India that participated in Street Child World Cup– 2014 at Rio, Brazil. It was a great achievement. I realized that hard work and perseverance always yields results. I was then invited by Street Child United, a UK based organization, to participate as alumni at the Street Child World Cup 2018 in Moscow, Russia. It was a wonderful experience to meet the former street children around the world. We shared our valuable experiences and stories. We also interacted with the British ambassador for Russian embassy, a true privilege. My journey in football has changed my journey in life.

11. How has football changed your life?

Football enabled me to identify with my life problems and sort them out. Through football my life style was changed and improved. It motivated me to strengthen my mental ability to achieve something in life.

12. Who is your favourite team / football player? Why?

I love the Brazil football team… it’s my favourite! Their playing style and commitment is unmatched. My most favourite footballer is Gilberto Silva because his story is extraordinary – he came from a poor family and went on to represent the Brazil team that won the World Cup! I was also lucky that he watched some of the matches I played, and gave tips on how to improve our game, how to play as a team and be organized in tackling the opponents… which was invaluable advice!

13. Who do you think will win the World Cup this year? Why?

I think that Germany will emerge as winners this time, because they have individual skills and team coordination which is very important to give your best in the international arena. In my view, they are the best today.

14. What do you want to be when you grow up?

One day, I want to represent a reputed football club.  After my football career I want to become a “D” licensed coach. At present I am working as a child rescue staff of Karunalaya. So far I have rescued 300 runaway children from the Chennai Central railway station. I have coached the team India girl’s team that participated in Street Child World Cup -2018, Moscow, Russia, and am also coaching street children who have interest in football.

Kannandos at the Street Child World Cup in Moscow, Russia, 2018 as Coach to the Girl’s Team


Going To School In The Tribal Village Of Javvadu Hills In Tamil Nadu

Summer holidays are coming close to an end, and school season is beginning, to the excitement (or distress) of many children across India. But in remote villages, schools are often far away and difficult to reach. Many children have to take the most backbreaking routes in order to receive an education that for many is so easily attainable. From unsafe journeys in conflict areas, over hilly terrain, and across rivers, above shaky bridges and through flooded pathways, the road to the classroom remains rough and rickety for many children across India.

Living in thick forests, kilometers away from the nearest school, children in the Tribal Villages of Javvadu Hills, in the Eastern Ghats spread between the Thiruvannamalai and Vellore districts of Tamil Nadu, take on long, ardous journeys to reach school, everyday. 

On assignment with Aid India, running an integrated development program across 28 tribal villages (supported by NSE), populated by the Malayali and Irulu tribe, one of the Scheduled Tribes (ST) of Tamil Nadu, Smitha Tumuluru documents a day in the life of these tribal children as they take on their journey to school, waiting for that single autorickshaw that will take them to school. 

On a typical school day in the Javvadu hills… As the sun rises, a mother braids her daughter’s hair and helps her get ready for school…

Other children, like getting ready themselves… Meet 5 year old Sandhya who likes to powder her face and keep a pottu (bindi, red dot on forehead) all by herself. Sandhya and her 8 year brother, live with their grandmother in a village in Javvadu hills in Tamil Nadu. Her parents are migrant laborers, working in the plains near Ambur. They cannot afford to visit home often. Migration is a common problem in this area. With farm labour not paying enough money, most men and many women migrate in search of work, often with no choice but to leave their children behind.

With heavy school bags on their tiny shoulders, some children like 9 year old Saravanan and his sister, whose homes are nestled in the forest, away from the center of the village, they have to walk upto 2 kms one way, through dense foliage, in order to board an autorickshaw that takes them to school.

Many parents enroll their children into the residential tribal schools as their villages are remote and children have to walk several kms to school, especially the middle and high schools. Migration is also one of the primary reasons why children are enrolled into hostels.

Each morning, the children gather at the village center and await the autorickshaw to take them to school. Since Javvadu hills is a tribal area, the government pays for an auto service between the villages and school, to ensure children do not drop out due to lack of transport. The auto is often late on Mondays, as the driver is busy ferrying passengers to the market for the weekly village fair, keeping the children waiting.

The auto often arrives late. More children get into the auto rickshaw at every stop. By the second stop there are already more than 10 children. The auto stops further from its usual stop. Children run after the auto, in the hope of securing a seat. 

The auto-rickshaw makes a final stop. Worried mothers try their best to get their children onto the auto rickshaw, their only means of travel to school. 

A total of 26 children pack themselves into one auto (way above the auto capacity), making their journey to school on the bumpy and hilly roads of Javvadhu hills.

#WorldDayAgainstChildLabour – Where A Dumpyard Nurtures ‘Little Dreams’

Hasbul plays with toy laptop gifted by his father on Eid-ul-fitr

In the Jahangirpuri area of Delhi, children and youngsters have big dreams that are stuck in the mire of garbage since their early childhood days. They have dreams to open mobile shops, an internet café, become a driver, an electrician, but all of their lives are tangled in collecting garbage, to feed themselves each day. They often feel stigmatised for doing such work, but that feeling is teamed with a sense of pride, for keeping the national capital clean. As Khurshid said “Without us (waste collectors) it would have been difficult for Delhi to maintain its cleanliness. We hope for a better life where we can feel equal to rest of the society.”

Close friends Hasbul and Malik are going to sell waste material they have collected from the road. They study in class 2. They go to school from 7 am to 12 pm. After school they collect waste from the road and neighbouring areas.

Every day waste collection earns Hasbul and Malik around Rs. 100 to splurge on an egg roll, mango shake, nahari (stew), and chowmein, something they consider a treat.

Hasbul and Malik (green T-shirts) along with other friends during a break after collecting waste material. Malik says “When I will grow up I will do only work as a waste collector. Otherwise how will I earn?”. Malik’s father is mentally challenged. He looks after by his mother too, who works in waste segregation at a junk dealer shop.

Majida Biwi, Malik’s mother is a waste segregation worker at a warehouse. She is the sole breadwinner of the family including her husband who is mentally ill and her two children. She earns INR 7500 (111 USD) per month.

Sameer (L) studies in class 2 and joins Hasbul and Malik for rag picking. They love posing for the camera.

Rihana, 12, works with her brother   in   law to support her family by earning INR 200 (3 USD) a day.

Jahangir, 12, dropped out after class 2 and works with his parents segregating cartons based on their size.

Maqsuuda, 15, returns after collecting waste from roads and colonies nearby.

Maqsuuda said “I have never been to school. I am working since I was 5 years old. Pet paalna hai. School jaane ka time kahan hai (I need to earn for our survival. There is no time to go to school).” Her father doesn’t work, instead he is addicted to alcohol and takes money from Maqsuuda to buy alcohol. She along with her 10 year old brother Happyzul earns approximately INR 15000 per month. Sometimes her mother goes along with them for waste collection.

Aarfa (L) and Arjuman are friends in the neighbourhood studying in class 8. Aarfa is fond of painting and Arjuman wants to learn english language. Arjuman says “I will be lucky if my father sends me to college after my school.” After school they help out in household chores.

Bilal, Kareem, Ruleema and Asmat study in class 7. They sometimes collect waste from the sewer. Eid-Ul-Fir is one of those occasions when they work so that they are able to buy new clothes and go to movies. They collect bottles, plastic, metal items and sell these to the local waste seller. On a lucky day when they collect waste on the road they find wallets with money, mobile phone and other expensive items.

Bilal (C), Kareem (R) and Noor (L) are spotted enjoying during a break from work.

Bilal wants to become an electrician as his father doesn’t earn good money. Noor and Kareem want to open their own mobile shops.

Pawan, 15, dropped out after class 9, left his parents’ home in fit of rage. He says he likes this work because it gets him INR 6000 (89 USD) per month. He works from 8 am to 9 pm.

Hameeda, 17, supports her parents in segregating waste that her parents collect from homes in middle class localities. “I miss going to school” she says, “but I have to look after my three younger siblings when my parents go to work.” Hameeda is fond of reading and writing, so she borrows books from her friends and reads them in free time.

Moina, 10 months, is sleeping in a cradle. She is the youngest of four siblings of Hameeda along with 6 year old Habiba and 10 year old Saleem.

Habeeba, 6, younger sister of Hameeda, plays with a doll she found in the waste her parents collected from houses.

Akbar Ali, 17, says “this is a dirty job, but there is money in this work.” He wants to get married but fears he will not be accepted as his job is Kabaad ka Kaam (working with junk). He never went to school because his mother passed away when he was a just a child. His father was a rickshaw puller; an alcoholic and not concerned about his family. “Earlier I used to collect waste from the roads but that was dangerous as sometimes people or police called him a thief.” He now works 12 hours a day with a junk dealers and earns INR 9000 per month.

Saajan, 20, wanted to study during but could not as he needed to support his family. “I do not like this waste segregation work; it stinks but I have no other option,” he says.

Haleema, 20, was married at 12. Though she never went to school, her younger sister has taught her reading and writing. Separated from her husband she lived with her 5-year-old daughter.

As a photographer, I have spent days to understand and document the lives of young waste collectors in the Jahangirpuri area of New Delhi. The parents and grandparents of these children, migrated mostly from parts of West Bengal to Delhi in search of a better livelihood. But ended up as ‘urban waste collectors’ where they earn enough just to survive. As Khurshid says “life is good if one ignores the stench of garbage.”

This article was originally published on DAJI, and republished with the permission of the photographer Rohit Jain.


The Games We Played – A Walk Down Memory Lane

What was your favourite game as a child? Hide and seek? Lagori? Or Gilli Danda?

Asking the same question to children today evokes very different answers.

“Candy crush.”

“Call of Duty.”

“Subway surfer.”



“Temple Run.”


Of the twenty odd children this question was asked to, about seventeen of them listed a video game as their favorite. While twenty children are hardly a sample size to conclude, do we really need proof that children today are addicted to virtual games? Probably to an extent where they’re unsure of what real play is all about.

Summer holidays, and the wonderful sense of euphoria that came along with it seems to be a thing of the past. Keeping children engaged wasn’t much of an issue. They took care of it themselves. Mornings would roll into evenings, and happy, dusty, sweaty and exhausted children would fall asleep before they knew it, tired from all the play, and the heat. Mangoes, swims, hide and seek, gully cricket, marbles, board games, and a host of made up indoor and outdoor games would keep them safe in the short-lived bubble called ‘childhood’. The games changed with the seasons. If summer was all about slurping on juicy mangoes and going for swims, monsoons was about jumping in puddles and making paper boats. Away from classrooms, it was on these make belief playgrounds and through these childhood games that some of life’s most important lessons were learnt, and lifetime friendships forged.

It is that glorious time of the year again. Probably the best time of the year to be a child. When you wake up and are not in a whirlwind rush to get packed off to school with heavy bags and aching shoulders. Instead, you wake up and you are at liberty to be a child. To play.

With hopes of reclaiming those good old days of play, we share some heartwarming photographs of children at play, an increasingly rare sight. How many of these games will you try playing with your children this summer?

1. Kancha or Marbles

From days when how rich you were depended on how many beautifully patterned and colored marbles you owned, this game is all about collecting as many marbles as you can from your opponent. A circle is drawn with a chalk on the ground, and you have to aim and strike at the marbles of your opponent. Every shot wins you another coveted marble.

2. Hopscotch

Played by children all over India, this game is all about aim, balance and fun. Once you’ve drawn a flowchart of numbered boxes on the ground, you have to find a flat stone to aim and throw into those boxes and hop your way through them. The tricky bit is switching quickly between hopping on one foot and both feet, while maintaining your balance.

3. Gilli Danda

Played with a small piece of wood (the gilli) almost resembling a pencil sharpened on both ends, and a longer piece of wood (danda), this game is one of the most played, and adored games in the country. Such is its popularity, even today, that it can even be argued that this game is more favored than even cricket by some. To win the game, you have be the one who hits the gilli to the farthest distance.

4. Chor Police

Another game where emotions tended to run high, given the excitement (and noise) it is capable of generating, Chor-Police is an eventful Indian game. The players are divided into two teams – of chor (thieves), and police. The police have to hunt for all the thieves after which they switch roles and continue the game. For extra excitement, the crime for which the gang is being arrested is pre-decided, and the police come down upon them in the quintessential dramatic Bollywood manner.

5. Hide and Seek/ Chuppan Chupai

Under the bed, in the wardrobe, on top of the tree, or even behind your mother’s pallu – this game helps children imagine the most innovative hide outs. And sometimes, the most predictable ones. But, the thrill of seeking out those hidden and crying “got you!” is unparalleled.

6. Langori

Also called pittu, this game is played by two teams. A pile of flat stones have to be balanced on top of each other to form a tower, at the center of the play space. Then, team one – the attackers, throw a ball at the pile of stones to knock it down. The fun starts once the tower has been knocked, and the defending team has to catch the ball and hit the attacking team with the ball. The attacking team then need to rebuild the tower as fast as they can, without getting hit by the defending team.

7. Lattu/ Spinning the top

The sheer joy of getting that spin right, and watching in amazement as the top transforms itself into a magical whir, is a thrilling childhood memory. From beautiful handmade and brightly painted traditional wooden tops, to the ones with blinking lights – these toys made for a treasure trove for children. And perhaps still do!

The Step Mom Syndrome

My daughter is seven. Over the past two years, many of her favourite bedtime stories have included the inevitable Cinderellas and Snow Whites. And like many other children, she hasn’t been a fan of the stepmothers and stepsisters – characterized as cruel and ugly, and quite frankly not particularly inspiring intellectually, either.

In most fairytales, the ‘step mother’ is the result of the passing on of the ‘real mother’. In real life however, our relationships are more complicated – my relationships are anyway.

My daughter is my only child. My husband has three children – our daughter and two sons from an earlier marriage. The boys are grown. They live with their mother in another city and come to visit often.

So I became, to my horror, a proxy parent for the times that the boys came over to see their father. Not a step-mother, because really there’s no need. But a kind of step-in something for a few days every year.

The stories I read never prepared me for some of the simplicity that is possible in these complex relationships.

More than their relationships with me though, what has been so warming to be part of, is the relationships these three – my daughter and the two boys – have built for themselves.

Children stay in the moment you see – they see and respond to what’s in front of them, the baggage is left behind. (not always, it’s true; but most times.) So for my daughter (let’s call her Sunaina), every time her Amit bhaiyya shows up on the door-step, it’s squeal-time, throw-yourself-at-him-time, you’re-the –best-time, lets-do-this and lets-do-that-time. When the younger bhaiyya comes over, it’s squabble time – both of them quarreling for the same ice cream spoon, the last scraps of a cake that’s been baked, the paint brush they both like. It’s endless. It’s a mela. It’s happiness time.

Sunaina asks my husband why he has two wives (facepalm time!). She asks me where the boys’ mother is. She asks whether I knew them when they were little. Or why they call her father papa. She asks it all – we tell her the truth each time, every time. I know she still doesn’t understand fully, but that doesn’t stop her from having a good time!

This summer vacation, we tried teaching Sunaina to cycle. My husband tried. I tried. Our nephew who was over at the time tried. We took off the training wheels. We ran alongside her. But really, the cycling wasn’t happening. Then, in a cloud of smoke, with a clap of thunder and with all the cool of Hugh Jackman, in steps the older brother. In one evening – I kid you not, ONE EVENING – she was cycling on her own. He spent two hours with her, patiently guiding her through the basics. She had ears for no one else. She didn’t fall once.

I stood on the side the whole time and thought to myself how much easier my life would be if I could respond to these two young men just as individuals. To allow them their quirks and irritableness rather than worry about it and fret that I should do more or less. Or that I should behave this way or that way. The stories all tell us that these relationships – the ‘step’ ones – never work. The stepmother is wicked. The stepsisters ugly. The stepfathers cruel. But here, right here, in my life, none of these is true. We are all only people who are linked together by an affection and set of relationships that sometimes we find difficult to explain.

The next time I find it difficult to explain, I’m not going to explain it. I’m going to respond to the moment, in the moment. The rest will happen when it has to.

Making Sense Of The World Today – Books Your Children Must Read

A child is never too young to start learning about the harsh realities of the world, and act on his/her inherent sense of justice. But how does one teach a child complicated concepts like activism, revolution, empowerment, poverty, inequality, tolerance, inclusiveness and dissent? These amazing books from India and world over simplify these seemingly complex constructs and draw in young readers. Based on real stories, and the uncomfortable truths we prefer to shield our children from, these books tell us why it is important to help our children understand these concepts, and what it means to stand up for things that matter. Most of all, to help our children make sense of the world, and understand what things really matter.

1. Your Turn Now, Lubaina Bandukwala

Based on a movement started by Rushabh Turakhia to remind adults and children to be kind, this book captures the stories of children and adults who have experienced random acts of kindness in their lives, and how it has changed them.

2. We, The Children of India, Leila Seth

Justice Leila Seth through this book, makes the Constitution understandable even to the youngest reader. Heavy words like Democracy, Republic, Secular, Sovereignty are easily explained, and the young reader is made to understand what the significance is of these words, and why they should be interested in the Constitution of their country.

3. Why Are You Afraid to Hold My Hand? Sheila Dhir

This book tackles the various stereotypes and misconceptions that people have regarding children coping with disabilities. Written in verse, and beautifully illustrated, it gives a voice to all those attitudes and reactions towards disability that are mostly wilfully ignored.

4. A is for Activist, Innosanto Nagara

Beautifully illustrated, this book sets new milestones for how we aspire to teach children the alphabet. This book introduces concepts of activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights amongst other socially relevant causes and concerns in a bold yet simple manner.

5. A Sweet Smell of Roses, Angela Johnson, pictures by Eric Velazquez

What did the youth involvement look like during the Civil Rights movement? A Sweet Smell of Roses tells the story of two young sisters who sneak out of their homes to participate in a peaceful march with Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. Simple, yet powerful, the story explores a child’s perspective of what it is like to be in a country where a revolution is brewing.

6. Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus, pictures by Evan Turk

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This can be easier said than done, just like all the good habits we want to imbibe our children with. This splendidly illustrated book captures the personal story of Arun Gandhi’s (Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson) journey of discovering the damage of wastefulness as a child, and the principles of cause and effect.

7. The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage, Selina Alko

While this book is based on America before 1967, it is still as relevant a read in contemporary society today, and even more so in India. This is the story of a family of five – Mildred Loving, Richard Perry and their three children. Loving and Perry were arrested for getting married to each other despite belonging to different races. They refused to admit that they had broken in law, or that their togetherness was illegal. They fought this case and won it, which led to the scrapping of the arbitrary law against interracial marriage.


8. I Dissent: Ruth Badder Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, Debbie Levy, Pictures by Elizabeth Baddeley

“Disagreeing does not make you disagreeable”. Explaining this to children can often be difficult. And this beautiful picture book does exactly that in a nuanced way. Based on the life of US Justice Ruth Badder Ginsburg, the book describes the value of standing up against inequality and fighting for people’s rights.

9. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, Miranda Paul, Elizabeth Zunon

Remember the three ‘R’s? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? This is a beautiful story about how small actions can make the biggest differences for preserving the earth. Based on a true story, this book shows us how even a single person can be an agent of change, and how she found a way to recycle hundreds of plastic bags and make her community a safer, greener less toxic place.

10. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, Margriet Ruurs, pictures by Nizar Ali Badr, translated by Falah Raheem

This picture book inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, is a story about the Syrian refugee crisis for children. The book narrates the story of a family forced to flee their homeland to escape the war, with just the belongings they can carry on their backs. A sensitive and poignant narration of the complexities of displacement that is at the heart of the refugee crisis.

On Child Trafficking In NorthEast India And The New Bill – In Conversation with Hasina Kharbhih

Human trafficking is the third largest organized crime violating basic human rights, with no specific comprehensive law to deal with it. On February 28 this year, the Union cabinet approved the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. This bill proposes allocating courts in every district for fast trials, creating a rehabilitation fund for survivors and protecting those who have been rescued from traffickers, amongst other things.

Trafficking is rampant around the world and the state of the northeastern states of India is akin to the rest of the world. The region’s proximity to countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China, makes for an easy passage for organized human trafficking to continue unabatedly as a lot of youth and children migrate to and from due to poverty and lack of employment opportunities.

Shillong based social entrepreneur Hasina Kharbhih, a potent voice on human rights and trafficking, and also a well-known face both nationally and globally, has contributed many years on issues of anti-human trafficking, child rights, substance abuse and health care among women and children in the Northeastern states of India. The founder of Impulse NGO Network, a key player in preventing human trafficking in the region, stands as an exemplary model of change, bringing together different actors to combat cross-border trafficking of children.

At a time when the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 is under media and public scrutiny, Sanskrita Bharadwaj on behalf of Leher, speaks with her to understand the real impact this bill would have in thwarting child trafficking.

Excerpts from the interview:

1. Could you tell us about the Impulse Model?

The fight against human trafficking can’t be achieved single-handedly which is why we collaborate with the government, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, civil society organizations and the media. All this comes under the Impulse Model. This is to build a strong anti-human trafficking network.

Our work stands on two pillars: First is Impulse NGO Network which was conceptualized in the year 1987 and has since then played a significant role against human trafficking; the second is Impulse Social Enterprises which aims to promote local artisans and create sustainable livelihood through its brand Impulse Empower, that helps prevent unsafe migration which often leads to human trafficking.

2. Illustrate how successful your work has been on the issue of human trafficking in the area?

I would like to talk about the issue of rat hole mining in the state of Meghalaya. This kind of mining is an age-old method where pits ranging from 5-100 square meters are dug into the ground to reach a coal layer. These tunnels are so small and narrow that only the size of a child can squeeze through. These child miners spend hours crouched inside the dark pits, struggling to breathe in the sulphur-rich air while collecting coal. This type of labour poses a threat to human life and to the local environment.

For the past twenty years, Impulse NGO Network has been addressing the issue of human trafficking and nine years on child labour in the rat-hole coal mines of the Jaintia Hills district. We have conducted several studies to investigate and report on forced labour in the mines of Meghalaya. Based on these researches, it has been estimated that approximately 70,000 children were employed in the rat-hole mines. Most of these children hail from the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Nepal. Impulse NGO Network has helped rescue about 1,200 children from these mines.

However, in due course it that was observed that the rescued children were soon replaced with new recruits. Due to government apathy and protracted reluctance to address the issue, INGON was compelled to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the National Green Tribunal. Subsequently, the National Green Tribunal passed a directive on April 17, 2014, banning rat-hole-mining in the state of Meghalaya.

3. The Cabinet recently approved the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. What are your views on the same?

Every bill that comes in place requires action on the ground and they also need a directive to make the bill a reality. I met Ms Maneka Gandhi recently and we submitted our initiatives. I proposed the Impulse Model’s The Impulse Case Info Centre Software which I believe will go a long way for healthy dialogue and especially repatriation of trafficked victims cross border and within the country about the protection on human rights in South East Asia. It’s a one window platform to ensure the implementation of the bill is done in a more progressive manner with a tested methodology.

4. Who are the different stakeholders in a community that help build a robust child protection network? How do these work in tandem to ensure children are protected?

If you’re talking about a robust mechanism on the ground, the most important institutions who are engaged in child protection starts with both the private and the public. The law enforcement is the first entry point when it comes to crime being reported, and then comes the social welfare department that looks at all the prevention measures to ensure that the crime is being registered and is being looked at. Then the institutions which work with awareness initiatives in schools must ensure that child protection is being provided as per the law. Above all we need parents to be more sensitive. Institutions also need to make sure that the parents are roped into initiatives.

5. What do you believe are the root causes for trafficking in Northeast India?

Human Trafficking happens globally, there are no boundaries or nationalities when it comes to it. It’s a global phenomenon, not only happening with children in Northeast India.

6. What are the challenges that you’ve faced?

We don’t just work in Meghalaya but we work in all the eight northeastern states including North Bengal and three other countries—Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh. There isn’t enough reporting on issues here, which is why we came up with the Impulse Model Press Lab. I think the media plays a powerful role in spreading awareness about human rights issues. In some cases, they play an important role in spotting missing people through investigative reporting which demands prompt action from the authorities. By bringing issues to the fore—journalists can expose problems of women and child trafficking

7. How does irresponsible reporting affect survivors?

Bad practices of reporting on human trafficking can be damaging to survivors. Sensationalist reporting, insensitive commentary, falsely depict individual stories…It could intensify trauma.

8. Which countries do you think have been successful in combating trafficking for children? How and why?

There are “good practices” being implemented in different countries but scalability of these “good practices” can only be ensured if there is convergence of stakeholders that hasn’t happened globally. Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) in the UK is a very good initiative. It has been internalized in terms of the government adapting the whole procedure. Collaborations need to happen, one can’t work in isolation.