| Actress Pallavi Chatterjee with the children of IPER. Picture by Pabitra Das
Outside, the sky is overcast. A torrential downpour is due any moment. Inside, 10-year-old Madhumita Das, indifferent to the vagaries of weather, is captivated by a jute doll she is making for a forthcoming fair. In another room, teacher Ratna Pal and a handful of kids are furiously threading intricate embroidery to adorn a line of cushion covers. Through all this, a steady din rises from a classroom downstairs…
Drop in on any weekday at the Institute of Psychological Research (IPER) on Prince Anwar Shah Road and the picture runs almost on the same lines. The plight of street children has been a key focus area for IPER in the past three decades. “Millions of children continue to be deprived of the basic needs of food, shelter, medicine and education. In a small way, we are trying to include as many slum children from the nearby areas and provide them a better life,” says Sushmita Ray, assistant programme co-ordinator, IPER.
The three-storeyed building houses several corners for myriad activities. At one end, 14-year-old Sheikh Shahzada is undergoing a counselling session. “He used to be a violent child ever since he saw his father beating up his mother. Later, the father left the family for another woman. Ever since, Sheikh would have violent fits when he would hit a person for no reason. He has been with us for the past two years and his anger is quite controlled now,” says the counsellor.
There are juvenile drug addicts and abused children, whose cause the institute has taken up. The IPER network includes holiday schools, open-learning schools, sishu panchayats, training and capacity building sessions, conferences and seminars, a documentation centre and sponsorship programmes.
One of the major objectives of IPER is to “mainstream the children” when they complete the course. “But the problem lies in providing the young girls an opportunity to hone their talent. Somehow, they always end up working as domestic help,” rues Ray. The organisation launched IPER Swadina in 2001 to provide necessary support to such girls. “The emphasis is on improvement of the economic level of the women,” says Bijali Mallik, assistant director and programme co-ordinator, IPER
Add to the various projects the organisation has in hand — touching nearly 2,000 children every day — many have been either aborted or abandoned, due to lack of funds. “We are supposed to get state funds to run our programmes but dealing with the government is a tedious affair. Of late, our parent organisation has told us to generate our own resources,” says Mallik.
The directive has forced the institute co-ordinator to come up with the Sharodiya Mela, an exhibition and sale of products, made by the children of IPER. The three-day affair that began on Thursday is expected to generate some funds that could help finance many a vital programme for children who need it most.
On the inaugural day, setting aside such worrying concerns, the children put up an array of cultural items, including patriotic songs (Aye watan) and skits from Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol. A moved Pallavi Chatterjee, chief guest of the afternoon, could not help gush: “Finally, they might have to return to their grim environs, but for the moment they are enjoying every bit of it. For us artistes, such moments make us reflect on the darker side of life and realise how privileged we are.”