The girl on the extreme right is Tanjali. The picture was taken against the boundary wall of the Indian Institute of Technology, Ber Sarai, New Delhi. Tanjali and her family and a host of other beggar families lived (still live?) on the pavement next to IIT. That particular red light -- on the intersection of Ber Sarai and Outer Ring Road -- was where they earned their living. Tanjali -- and the other kid -- are both wearing tee shirts that I'd painted. It was part of a small project started through the Indian Shitizen, a blog that I stopped writing. That blog received extreme reactions from people.
Many young Indians like me responded positively to it. When you are not a true citizen, when you don't do your verylittlebit, you are a shitizen: that was the philosophy behind the monicker. The blog also angered many people. Surprisingly a large number of them lived abroad. They all felt that by labelling (most) Indians 'shitizens', the blog and by extension I, was pandering to what the rest of the world -- particularly the Western world -- already thought about India. That India and Indians are corrupt, that they don't give a damn about their many, many poor or anything else that's wrong with the country and can be fixed. Anyway, that blog is now sitting unpublished. Perhaps it will be revived some far off day in the future.
But unlike that blog's failed attempt at making a difference -- it didn't last more than three months! -- there are some people/organisations that are making a real difference. I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the phrase "non-profit organisation seeks donations", I instantly think of it as a money-making scam/scheme. So when I first heard about the Delhi-based Project Why and that it was being supported by the French embassy, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Another rich, page-3 woman and more white people with we-have-a-better-life-guilt." with nothing else to do." I don't know about the French embassy but I was absolutely, 100 per cent wrong about the woman.
The slum was in the Govindpuri area of Delhi and I was visiting because the dude I was dating back then (2000) was volunteering for Project Why. Govindpuri looked like a a slightly better-off slum area: There were more brick houses than shanties, the gutters were relatively clean and definitely not overflowing and the kids seemed to be wearing more clothes. And then the kids came out, a group of 10 or so, different age groups and in unison said, "Goodmorning didi, how are you today?." As in not namaste, but goodmorning and everything else in clear English. I smiled back, shook some hands and the cynic within thought, "So they speak few lines in English, even beggar kids can speak some." Then I entered the room the kids had come out of. There were a couple of computers there, with kids sitting before them... working. I was quite surprised. Outside the room, an argument was in full swing. I heard a woman's coarse voice, angry and bordering on abuse; and another gentler but firm voice insisting, "Par ussey school nahin bhejogi to woh ricksha bhi chalayega." (If you don't send him to school, he too will only ride a rickshaw)
The angry woman was another slum kid's mother who refused to understand or accept that her son needed to go to school or learn English. What was the need? "Sahib thode hi banega." (He won't become a sahib/ officer). Strangely and despite the distance and much more that separates India and Australia, many non-government workers/volunteers/organisations working with Aboriginal Australians face similar questions and attitudes. But I won't write about that yet...
The firm-but-gentle woman was Anouradha Bakshi, founder of Project Why. She eventually did manage to get that particular boy and many, many more to 'school'; that room I'd seen the kids come out of. A whole lot of these kids speak English, many use computers and as of June 3, 2011, "
These kids are getting educated. Will they get jobs when they grow up or will they join the throngs of educated Indians who can't find a job? No one can answer that but at least and for sure, they have a better chance at finding a job. I wonder if someone will find Tanjali and give her such a chance.
Project Why has it's own website and blog. There are some really good, REAL stories on the blog...and shockingly few comments or reader participation. It would be very nice if you would go read. Don't take my word for it, check out what Project Why has done for yourself, see their website, Google them and if you're in Delhi, call and drop in on them. And if it's not asking too much of your time and/or your blog-space, promote them. Write about their work, send people to their website/blog. And no, they are not paying me to do this and neither have they asked me to.