I woke up to a typical Monsoon morning in Mumbai, with a heavy downpour on 4th of July. I had planned the day to meet with an incredible bunch of children who live in street situations. A day, I knew was very significant for them. Bal Raksha Bharat along with organisations like Hamara Foundation and Government had organised an Aadhar Camp to give identity proof to children who live on the streets. As I was driving down to join the children, with rain splashing outside, I wondered what it means to be one of the 2 million children that live in street situations in India on a day like this.
I reached the school where Manisha met me with a beaming smile. She has passed her 12th with first class. She has been able to get an opportunity to go out there, dream and make her dreams a reality. It fills me with joy and happiness.
Manisha was born under the Elphinston Flyover and this is where she has spent 17 years of her life, this is what she calls her ‘home’. What do they do on a rainy day? Because they live under a flyover which is open on all sides, it means that the rainwater may be coming in from all sides and even overflowing below. They have built a ledge that holds all their belongings in their ‘home’. They climb up on the ledge, sit there and wait for the rain to die down. Manisha told me all of this with a smile. I can’t imagine a nation truly progressing if we aren’t thinking about the 2 million children living on the streets.
As an artist ambassador of Bal Raksha Bharat, I can’t even begin to tell you how much pride and joy it gives me, how much my character has developed and how much better I feel, as a human being, knowing that I’m part of a process that is giving identity to these children.
Why is identity important? Have we ever thought about it? You know me by my name, you know what I do and you possibly even know what my dreams are, but there are millions of children living on the streets who don’t have that identity, who are not even called by their own names. People refer to them as ‘Raju’, ‘Rani’, ‘Chhotu’. Nobody knows where they are coming from or whether they go to school. Many of them are even employed in child labour against their wishes and many don’t even have access to hospitals or basic healthcare. These are all the privileges that you and I enjoy on a daily basis. Things we take for granted.
The joy of running water in a tap, being able to go to a washroom in the safety, security and sanctity of our homes, these children and their families don’t have that. But, you know what the most incredible thing about these kids is – they’re always smiling, they’re filled with fortitude, they are so inspiring. It is because they’re resilient, they’re kind, they’re empathetic, and they believe in their dreams despite all the obstacles that society has thrust upon them. Each one of them who have been given an opportunity to read, play, learn, exist and also get an identity are able to shine. They have moved forward and are doing incredible work. They are known as what we all call ‘Child Champions’.
I am so proud and privileged to meet our Child Champions and I hope we create many more such Child Champions. Each of us can become a part of their lives and give them access to their fundamental rights.
In my journey with Bal Raksha Bharat, I have to let you know how enriched, meaningful and beautiful my life has become because I have met these incredible children across India. Children like Manisha awe me with their fortitude, resilience, and determination. For all of us who complain about the banalities of life, we should stop, pause and think about the challenges these young children face on a daily basis.
I asked Manisha what her dream is. The simplicity and the generosity of it touched something within.
“I will be in college soon and want to make a life where people know me by my work. But my dream is that there are many more Manishas who should not go through the hardships that I have experienced. All of them should get their rights and equal opportunity and an opportunity to dream and make it a reality.’
How powerful! A dream that is just not about herself but includes others.