As a member of Socio-development club of my school, I had the privilege to be a part of the team that visited the slums of Delhi to interact with people living there and to know about their lives. We were all excited about our scheduled outing and honestly we were not at all sincere or sensitive about the noble cause. A notice asking students to donate generously in terms of food, cloths and money was circulated throughout the school. But all we could get by the end was a meager sum of 15000 Indian rupees and a dozen odd cloths. A school which boasted of total student strength of over 10,000 could only spare Rs 15000 for poor and deprived people. However, it hardly seemed to bother anyone.
Slums are not so rare in Indian metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bombay. And we had chosen one nearby our school. As our School bus stopped near slum area, swarms of slum children came hovering around our bus. Hardly anyone cared to stop for them, so this was one odd thing for these children. They were surprised for why did a school bus stop by their house. Of course, none of them went to schools. Most of the slum children didn’t have uniforms like us. Cloths, if they had, were tattered and torn. They were half naked and starved - their skeleton peeping out of their pale skin. This was the first glimpse of the poverty. We distributed amongst them few chocolates that we had brought for them. They were all ecstatic.
Then we proceeded to interact with slum people. Houses here were very clumsy and congested. Once into the slums, you couldn’t see the sky -only slums and slums everywhere. Few houses were made up of bricks and mud with roof made up of bamboo and leaves, while others just had V-shaped plastic roof and nothing else. To my amazement, most of the house had a single small room, which served the purpose of kitchen, bed-room, dining room, living room and everything else. In fact, this was the small horrible world of every slum dweller. Horrible because there was no water or electricity supply. Slum was built over a sewage canal and it was stinking. These small rooms had to fit in dozens and scores of members.
Even if they could not ensure proper shelter and food for themselves, every family had dozens and dozens of children. Parents considered kids as extra earning hands. They were hand to mouth. One could not have asked them to send their children to school, not unless basic needs, such as food. Shelter and cloth, were fulfilled.
What I observed at slums was a vicious circle of poverty, population, illiteracy and exploitation. Most of the men were under-paid laborers, rickshaw pullers or vendors. They worked whole day and whatever small they earned, they squandered it over drinking, gambling and merry making. But one couldn’t blame them. This is what they had seen right from childhood. This is what their grandparents did. This is what their children are to do. None of them ever thought that they could break this chain. They had stopped dreaming and even if anyone dared to, dreams hardly came true in want of money, power and opportunities. They didn’t complain. They appeared quite content. Even otherwise, they had no other option but to accept the bitter truth.One of the kids complained that he had not eaten from two days. He had fever. But, when food is beyond reach, medicines are day- dreams.
I felt guilty and privileged at the same time. Guilty for being insensitive towards them till then. We could very willingly give thousands of rupees when it came to picnic or summer outing but we became so miser when it came to this noble cause. 20 or 50 rupees could not have made us poorer, but would have helped a poor with atleast one time meal. I felt privileged that I was not born in a slum family. Can anyone point out a single fault of the slum children for which they are forced to live such a hellish life! Don’t they have right to play and read like us! Isn’t right to food, cloth and shelter as fundamental as right to freedom of expression or freedom of speech. We as city-dwellers often complain that slums mar the beauty of city. But there are people who live in those slums. They are no different from us. They too can feel pains and pangs of life. Don’t they have right to live? A visit to slums can move anyone to pity. We can’t survive in such conditions even for a day. But there is some form of human life that exists in such traumatic conditions day in and day out. What tolerance and fortitude!
What have we done for them? It is so easy to comment sitting comfortably in your living-room. But, only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Just try to step into their shoes for a day and you would know that this world is not the best place to live in. Ofcourse the world they live in is quite different from our’s—the world of have-nots. While the former is marked by surplus, later is characterized by scarcity. We just need to strike the right balance. What they want is a bit of space in this world. We need to try and uplift them.
Crux to whole problem is illiteracy. They are illiterate and uneducated and therefore remain far aloof from all the development that has been taking place around the world. Trickle down effect that economists talk of is all farce unless those at the bottom are educated. There are innumerable opportunities, but one needs to be able to grab those. They don’t need our pity or mercy but a bit of support to merge into main stream. If we really abhor slums, we should try and eradicate slums and not the people who live there. We need to arouse awareness among them about Population explosion and drug abuse. We need to enlighten them with plethora of opportunities that opens once we are educated.
No doubt, our visit to slums was of no great significance. It was just one of the slums in one corner of Delhi. There are innumerable slums and so are poor in India and the picture becomes graver when we take entire world into account. But this visit to slums helped all of us understand the dire need of support that these people need. Our school had ‘Umang’ –a school for slum children, which ran after our school were over. It aimed to provide quality education along with books and uniforms to slum children free of cost. We all volunteered to teach and assist students there, because today we know that only way we can make India a better place to live in is by eradicating illiteracy. Eradicating illiteracy would automatically uproot social evils such as child marriage, drug abuse, infanticide and exploitation.
Journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. We have already started. But there is a mammoth task infront of us. And there lies my purpose of sharing this incidence with you all. Irrespective of what you are and which ever part of the globe you belong to, you should join hands and help us eradicate illiteracy, poverty and social injustice. What they need is not our money, but education and inspiration to stand on their own feet. We need to teach them to dream and provide them confidence and means to achieve them. We just need to spare some time from our daily schedule and devote it in teaching those who are not as privileged as us to go to schools. We need to educate them and above all make them enlightened and aware enough to distinguish between good and bad so that they can choose the right path for themselves. We just need to show them right path and they would themselves sail along smoothly.
If we are educated, it is our moral obligation to volunteer, promote and participate in programmes like ‘each one-teach one’. We can’t just sit idle and wait for government to do even our share of job. We need to take things into our stride. It can be anyone, your maid servant, driver or cook. Just choose anyone around you who is illiterate (you can find a number of them) and ensure not only that you have taught him but also that he passes on this knowledge to someone around him. This way we would create and unending and ever-growing chain. This fact needs no proof that where ever illiteracy is high, so are moral bankruptcy, poverty, social evils and slums. Therefore, if we take a step forward in eradicating illiteracy, other good things would automatically follow.