Bangalore: It was Former Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hedge who put the launch of a book at IIMB on runaway children in perspective when he declared, “This book – Rescuing Railway Children – serves to bring us out of our ivory towers and shows us glimpses of a world that desperately needs our attention.”
It was this ‘other world’ that Dr Chiranjeevi Singh, IAS, Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt of Karnataka, described when he recalled his early years as a young IAS officer posted in the districts. “I visited many modest homes; what struck me was not the size of their kitchens or the lack of toilets but the haunted look in the eyes of the kids in these homes.”
Calling the book a “lamp in the darkness enveloping a greedy and callous world”, he urged for the case studies and the real-life stories in the book to be translated to all Indian languages “so that individuals and communities are inspired to go from empathy to action”.
Both Dr Hegde and Dr Singh were chief guests at the launch of ‘Rescuing Railway Children’, co-authored by Lalitha Iyer of the NGO ‘Sathi’ and Professor Malcolm Harper, Emeritus Professor of Enterprise Development, Cranfield School of Management, UK.
The book was launched at IIMB on Children’s Day with a very special program: several of the children, rescued from railway platforms across India, were reunited with their families.
Why a launch at IIMB, many had wondered when we announced the event; we shall come to that in a bit. For now, the spirited youngsters had stories to share. Baba (19) from Pavagada in Tumkur district in Karnataka said he ran away from home when he was 8 years old. “I ran away to earn money; I also picked up all kinds of ‘habits’. In the Ananthpur railway station, I lost my leg; and in the Bangalore Central railway station I lost my elder brother,” he said. A volunteer from Sathi found him on the tracks. He was taken to a de-addiction centre where he was treated for ghutka-addiction, and when he was well and willing, he gave Sathi volunteers the address of his maternal uncle. “His parents are ill with worry. They will be happy to see him,” said the uncle in a choked voice.
Srinivas was in Std IX when he decided that he had enough of Hindi and English in the government school in Kadur in Chikmagalur district. The teenager got on a train and landed in Bangalore. He won’t speak of what happened after that; he would rather talk of returning home. He clearly wants to erase memories of life on the platform.
Not so Arun. The sprightly child had perfected the art of running away. “He ran away five times before this,” says his mother, referring obliquely to the many “bad things” that he picked up. Counseling and treatment seem to have helped Arun. “He isn’t so angry any more. He has calmed down. He is affectionate and he is back in school in Std VII,” said the overwhelmed mother.
The children described their extraordinary struggles in flat voices; their eyes gleamed very briefly when they received school bags and books and lunch boxes from student-volunteers of Vikasana, IIMB’s social service initiative that put together the event. Like all those present in the room, they knew that the journey to normalcy was going to be a long and difficult one. Like someone observed, “These children have not grown up but they have aged on railway platforms.”
Pramod Kulkarni, alumnus of IIMA and founder of SATHI; Mr Rahul Tandon, alumnus of IIMA and founder of IIMPACT; Vikas Manyar, alumnus of IIMA and former head of Akshara Foundation; and Professor M S Sriram of IIMB spoke of how management principles can help to create organizations of scale in order to handle problems of scale.
“In a country like India, there is no dearth of causes. If one wants to grow beyond one’s profession, then one should grow as a human being by working on a cause close to one’s heart,” said Rahul Tandon, who shared a video of the work that IIMPACT is doing by setting up learning centres for girl children across India.
“From understanding client needs – our clients are children with no ability to pay, to finding sources of funding, work in this sector needs the application of management principles,” he added.
Professor Sriram said, “When the idea of documenting the stories of railway children was born, I had suggested the working title as ‘Odihodhavaru’ (‘The Runaways’). But Pramod immediately replied, ‘Why not ‘Maralibandhavaru?’ (‘The Ones Who Returned’). That, to me, is the faith with which we should work with runaway children.”
Dr Vasudev Sharma, Director, Child Rights Trust, introduced the book and hoped the research would be used by other NGOs and government agencies working in the area of child rights.
Lalita Iyer, co-author, described the book as a bridge between different worlds. “We need to draw management graduates to the social sector,” she said.
Mr Rajesh Pandit, Chief Manager, Centre for Software and IT Management, IIMB, moderated the discussion on the need for adopting management principles in the social sector and thanked Vikasana and SATHI for bringing to light a world that few of us even acknowledge.
The book, as Dr Singh said, quoting Shakespeare, could prove to be a candle throwing its beams far and wide because it gave voice to runaway children. “We need more such voices to be heard,” he observed.