Destiny’s children at the school run by GRP at Dhanbad railway station on Tuesday. Picture by Gautam Dey
Dhanbad railway police are going out of their way to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable and despised children — vagabonds at the station.
From August 30, Government Railway Police (GRP) at Dhanbad junction have started an informal, self-financed school for destitute children, the first such initiative under East Central Railway.
Children, who pick rags, beg or steal or just loiter, are seen at every Indian station. Traditionally, they not persons whom the railway police view kindly. The children, on the other hand, are plain scared of policemen, wary at best.
But the GRP at Dhanbad station is making a brave effort to be a game-changer with 11 children aged between eight and 16 on its school rolls.
Though it’s been four days, the police may have earned the trust of Raju (8), Suraj Kumar (10), Ajay Kumar (12), Soni Kumari (12), Om Prakash (12), Akhilesh (12), Golu Bhuiyan (12), Pradip Kumar (13), Arbaz Khan (14), Ravi Kumar (14) and Mohammed Shakil (16).
It’s a rare sight, as any policeman will agree.
Children, many of whom the police know as pickpockets and drug addicts, troop in anytime between 10am and 2pm for a two-hour class on the verandah of GRP thana on Dhanbad railway station, depending on mutual convenience.
They also get books, pencils and copies and other stationery free of cost.
“We launched the school last Friday. Sunday was their holiday, so effectively, this (Tuesday) is the fourth day of school. On Day One, nine children came. The number has gone up to 11. It is encouraging,” said officer in charge of GRP (Dhanbad) A.K. Verma.
His fellow teachers are lady sub-inspector M.T.M. Tirkey and munshi Rajnikant.
Children, who live on station premises, are orphans or abandoned by parents or runaways. Though a few take up menial work, many turn to crime, sniff glue or inject drugs.
“But they are children, after all, and we have a soft corner for them,” Verma said. “We are at present teaching them alphabets and numbers. This apart, we teach them hygiene basics,” he said.
On the scope of their school, he said: “If the number of children increases, we may shift to a rented accommodation with the help of some NGO. Even if we don’t get external aid, we can manage expenses on our own if each of our 70 colleagues donate Rs 50 a month,” Verma said.
On Day One, children were given a set of new clothes and a haircut. “We funded these from out of our own pocket,” Verma said. “We thought, if it’s a new start, there should be a special marker. Lice-infested hair and dreadlocks aren’t conducive to learning ABC,” he smiled.
Verma, while thanking NGO Childline for help, admitted a lot needed to be done.
“We need shelters with de-addiction centres, vocational courses,” he said. “If these young lives get an overhaul, they won’t grow up into criminals.”
He added society overlooked their innate goodness. “Only this Sunday, eight-year-old Raju returned a cellphone to a passenger that had fallen on the platform. Don’t you think Raju deserves a better life?”