May 20: Twelve-year-old Ashish has mastered a technique. He can sniff Dendrite without thousands of passengers at Guwahati railway station even getting a whiff of it.
He and his friend Sankar pour the adhesive on a piece of cloth and use it as a handkerchief. But sometimes they fail to deceive the railways cops and get beaten up.
“Policemen beat us when we are caught having cough syrup or sniffing Dendrite,” said Asish, pointing to the fresh wound on the face of 14-year-old Sankar, who left his home in Chaparmukh in Nagaon district two years ago and made the railway station his address.
They sweep trains to collect coins for food and at least a tube of Dendrite, their addiction.
Like them, there are many boys who roam in the railway station, busstops and sleep in slums on both sides of the railway tracks.
“There are no official figures but according to our estimates, at least 150 boys are staying in the station alone,” Umesh Baruah of Step, NGO, said.
Little do these boys know the havoc the adhesive can play with their system.
The use of adhesives, according to Sanu Islam, a doctor at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, may affect their liver and neurological system.
“If I don’t take this, I feel severe headaches. I feel ashamed to beg for money or sweep train floors without sniffing Dendrite,” said Asish, who fled from his house in Alipur in Bengal and reached Guwahati by train.
There are many who spend the night in shelter homes run by government agencies and NGOs. But very little is known about what they do during the day.
One of these vagabond boys, 15-year-old Sibu Das, drowned in the Brahmaputra on Wednesday morning. He used to stay at night in Amiyo Chaliha Griha run by the Indian Council for Child Welfare and worked as a labourer loading and off-loading goods during the day.
Sibu along with three others — Karan, Bhola and Biju — had gone to Sukreswar ghat to bathe around 10.15am. Witnesses said the four were sniffing Dendrite on the bank before jumping into the water.
Search operations were stopped a day after the incident while the shelter home washed their hands of the matter saying it was not their responsibility to keep a watch on where the boys go and what they do during the day. “We provide them food and night shelter. It’s not our responsibility to monitor them while they are out,” Jashawant Dutta, administrator of the home, told The Telegraph.
There are 15 other boys who take shelter in the home at B. Barooah Road. Karan, Bhola and Biju have not stopped visiting the home at night but the sorrow of losing their friend Sibu is writ large on their faces. “We used to eat dinner together and work together but now we are one short,” said Bhola, as the trio sat on a bench after dinner.
NGOs like Snehalaya, Red Cross, Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) and the social welfare department offer shelter and education facilities but many children are still out of their reach.
“We have rescued many homeless and street children, who face physical and sexual harassment. Many children we send to shelter homes run away and never return. NGOs are running shelter homes but a lot needs to be done to bring them under Right to Education Act and provide them with proper care and protection,” Nirmal Kalita of Childline said. The government, however, said it was looking to give shelter to the homeless children and provide them education and protection.
“We are running two observation homes at Fatasil and Jalukbari. But it is not possible to monitor all the children out on the streets,” Hemi Bora, Kamrup district social welfare officer, said.