School Of The Week

Street kid to graduate with honour

Written By : NANDIKA CHAND. At the age of 10, Pankaj Gupta got up one morning and decided to run away from home. Most children do not have the courage
23 Jan 2010 12:00

image Written By : NANDIKA CHAND. At the age of 10, Pankaj Gupta got up one morning and decided to run away from home.
Most children do not have the courage to run away from their homes but an empty stomach and bruises the night’s beating left him with no other choice.
Gupta was born in Bihar and his parents were poor and could not afford to feed him along with his two sisters and brothers.
Trapped in their own cycles of the despair poverty engenders, the elders in the family often beat Gupta and his siblings for no apparent reason at all.
Gupta said his father arranged for him to work in a glass factory where they used to make glass bangles (kanch ke churidyan).
“I worked there for two years from the age of eight to 10 years. I used to work without any breaks from 7am to 6pm,” he continued.
“I was only allowed to take a 30-minute meal break of an onion and a chapatti. I used to be beaten by my employer if I took a break before lunch.
“It was very tough working in the glass factory as I was not given any protective gear or masks to protect my health,” he said.
Gupta said he earned 75 Rupees per week ($3.11FJD) which the employer put into his father’s hands.
He admitted that he never received his hard day’s earnings.
“Once my father got the money, he used to go straight to a daba (bar) and waste it all on alcohol.
“Sometimes when he was in a good mood, he used to give the money to my mother to buy food and clothes.
“I often used to receive beatings when my father came back from the daba after drinking,” he recalled.
Gupta said he got tired of working at the factory when all the other children were either at school or at work with their mother.
He said he just had enough of the ill-treatment, abuses and beatings and decided to run away for good.
“I had no idea where I would go, how I would survive, food or money, I just wanted to escape my live.
“I remembered that I crept out of my shabby house with a shirt on my back and a pair of khaki shorts barefoot.
“I just kept on walking straight on not knowing where I was heading too. I wanted to get to a train station but did not know where it was?” he said.
Gupta said he roamed the streets of Bihar for two- days without any food.
He said he wanted to ask for help but was too scared to do so as he would be sent back to his father.
“Somehow I made it to the railway station and got onto the train headed for New Delhi. I thought Delhi would be a nice place to earn money as I heard a lot about it.
“I had no ticket and considered myself lucky as the conductor turned out to be quite nice and did not hassle me or turn me over to the police,” he said.
Arriving at Delhi, Gupta said he did not know anyone and was not familiar with how things worked in the Capital.
He said he roamed around the railway station for two days living on food which was handed down by the kind hearted travellers.
“I did not wander far from the station thinking I would end up in Bihar again! In those two days I came to know the in and out about the railway station.
“I was approached by a teenager at the station who told me there was an organisation by the name of Salaam Baalak Trust that helped children like me.
“He took me to the Trust and ever since then, I have been living here,” he said.
Salaam Baalak Trust is a Delhi based non-governmental organisation engaged in the rehabilitation of street children.
Gupta is now a polished young man of 20 years of age pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with Honours at one of India’s top universities, University of Delhi.
The Trust took him under its wings 10-years ago and he has passed 10 standards through the National Open School with good marks.
Gupta has also won recognition as a stage performer
He now sees a future for himself pursuing a career in arts and theatrical drama.
“Theatrical dramas, plays and most of all acting are the skills I want to pick up because it would help me lead a dignified life, and put my not-so-bright past behind me.
“I have a keen interest in acting and did my first ever stage play or theatrical drama before a large audience celebrating the Trust’s anniversary last year.
“The Trust is helping me to pursue this dream of mine and I am doing my part by doing well at school,” he added.
Gupta said he was the choreographer and coordinator for the children at the Trust organising and preparing them for special functions.
He said they were very much grateful to the Trust as without its help, they would have been out on the streets.
“Thanks to such organisations, the children are able to get education, grow and contact their families letting them know about their whereabouts.
“If I had not been conveyed about the Trust, I would have been pulled into the wrong crowd and would have been a gangster or drug peddler,” he said.
Gupta said he was also a volunteer at the Trust looking after and caring for the young children.
He said there were children from different states of India who had run away from their homes with stories similar to his.
“I am now in contact with my family in Bihar and they are very happy that I have reached this far in my life.
“I work in a nearby theatre and sometimes send money back home to my parents and siblings,” he said.
Gupta said after getting his degree he wanted to continue on studying and go onto doing his masters.
He said apart from university, he had a keen interest in acting and hope that one day he would become a heart throb just like his favourite actor Salman Khan.

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