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What It’s Like To Be A Child Living On The Platforms Of Kolkata’s Busiest Station

Allow me to tell you a couple of stories. Stories to you and me, but everyday realities for the platform children of Sealdah Railway Station at Kolkata. For a few days, with a return ticket folded between my cell-phone and its transparent cover, a little diary in my bag, I roamed around the station, simply observing the platform children from a distance.

At Platform No. 1, around 11:40 am, a portable sound box slung across her shoulder, a girl of approximately 12, hair tied in a plait, swaying to a rhythm of her own, begins covering her beat with a knee-high girl child tagging along.

Around 12:30 pm, at the same platform, I spot another girl with hair cropped short, a boy, possibly her brother, tagging along as she walks the length of the platform towards the station end. Passing hawkers and waiting passengers, and nudging them with her begging bowl, she suddenly looks intently towards the sparrow perched at the edge of the platform and tiptoes her way towards it before it flies away. On her way, she plays a little game of throw and catch with the child but is quick to get back to work. A rogue traveller snatches her bowl from her attempting to engage in a bit of a banter. A man in a blue shirt shooes her away before going back to reading his newspaper. She moves on to the next bench and the next hawker who gives her some boiled chickpeas. The girl now gestures at a young boy hanging along the edge of the adjacent platform. He crosses the rail line as they joke and playfully push each other around before disappearing into the crowd.

Around 2 pm, from a vantage point of my choice, I look at three children playing around a blue cement bench on Platform No. 4. The eldest sister, wearing a red frock, possibly eight years old, a little boy of around four, and the youngest sister who could be two or three. The youngest child often ventures dangerously towards the end of the platform and the eldest keeps pulling her back, making her sit on the ragged mat. Every time the eldest attempts to lie down or put her feet up on the bench, the little girl pokes the sister’s arms or simply puts her hand over the sister’s face. This goes on for quite a little while. It’s difficult to not smile to myself as I recollect all the times that I was asked to babysit my sister as a child. The little brother, in the meantime, had hopped on to the waiting train and has now returned with a begging bowl full of puffed rice and a ten rupee note. The eldest ties the ten rupees within the end folds of her frock and they begin eating from the bowl. The youngest sister now takes a handful of the food and stuffs it into the eldest’s face. In some time, the eldest sister hops on to the still waiting train and returns with a few cucumber slices which are again shared among the three of them. She has now started walking towards the other end and meets a lady on her way, presumably her mother, and asks for something which causes her mother to raise her hand as if trying to hit her. But she stops midway and relents. From the ends of her saree’s pallu, she takes out a blue sachet and pours a little of its contents into the child’s spread out hand. The brother, too, has wandered off somewhere close by and the youngest now sits alone on the ragged mat next to the blue cement bench and plays with an empty mineral water bottle.

Announcements are being made for the departing trains and the delayed trains. Trains and crowds arrive and depart. Sealdah station sees a regular traffic of over two million people on a daily basis, and amidst the preying eyes of the unscrupulous, live the platform children of Sealdah.

A child rescued by Childline from Sealdah, who has been to Bombay, to Gujarat and is finally back at Sealdah, while staying at the shelter home says that the thing he is most afraid of is the ghost that peeps from the window and from behind the almirah at night.

‘Childline’ is an initiative by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Ministry of Railways, Government of India, in collaboration with organisations such as the Child In Need Institute that operates across the country including Sealdah. The one-point stop for children in distress is 1098. You may read more about the programme here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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