Railway stations in India are one of the most important sites of transport – and Sealdah station is one of the busiest. Thousands of people pass by this station every day, as hundreds of local and express trains run to and fro daily. No one has the time to look what the other person is up to or what is happening next to them.
Obviously, no one sees what goes on outside this station – more specifically, how the street children and their families survive. Here, I would like to share some experiences which made me think that the way these people survive should make us question our humanity.
In 2011, I was completing a post-graduate course in one of the medical colleges in Kolkata. Nearly six years later, when I visited the same place, it seemed to me that the lives of these children and their families have remained unchanged, despite all the socio-political progress Kolkata has witnessed in these years.
Early morning, at around five, these people gather outside the station from nowhere. They come in large groups which consist of small children and older ones. Allegedly, there’s a secret drug business in this area. There are drug dealers who sell them drugs (brown sugar, cocaine). They use the drugs and start their daily work of picking up plastic bottles or pick-pocketing. Many times, they are caught by the police and thrown in jail. But after they are released, they go back to do the same.
Why? Why have they been doing this? The question remains unanswered. Perhaps, they have found this to be one of the easiest and cheapest ways of surviving.
Whenever we came to Sealdah station, these children used to come begging. We used to offer them food – to no avail. All they wanted was money so that they could buy the drugs they wanted. When they are under the influence of drugs, they fall asleep anywhere. Because of the addiction, they often skip food and sometimes commit crimes to get money for more drugs.
Girls, who are hardly in their teens, also get addicted to drugs and become involved in this business. In many cases, they are used as ‘smuggling bags’ where they act as transporters to export drugs or smuggled goods from one place to another. Cheap cinema halls in the area provide easy access for such activities.
Around midnight, the outskirts of the station turns into a red light area. Prostitution has become one of the growing businesses in this area. Some of these girls even give ‘sexual favours’ at extremely low prices. I remember witnessing one such incident. The 15-year-old girl was being ‘tortured’ by a man who seemed to be double her age, besides also being bulkier. When we tried to talk to her, she said that she was happy the way she was, and didn’t want us to get involved into their lives.
Many of these girls also turn out to be carriers of sexually-transmitted diseases. One such girl was brought to our medical college in a severely drugged state. She was also bleeding profusely. Finally, when we confronted her, she said that she had been forced to have sex, only a couple of days after delivering her child. She wanted to die because, for her, the baby was a symbol of lust and not of love. She didn’t want to feed her baby and made several attempts to kill it in the medical college. That girl was hardly 17 years old. Later, she was sent to a rehabilitation centre – but then we learnt that she had fled from there.
It is true that the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and other authorities have become more vigilant due to rising number of thefts and the threat of terrorist attacks. For this, they are trying to move these people away from the station premises. However, all of this has only resulted in them changing their locations – but not their lifestyles.
If one observes the daily lives of these street children and their families, they will see the overwhelming influence of drugs and addiction – from morning till night. This business is increasing day by day – and with it, the number of diseases they carry is also exponentially rising. With mothers and teenage girls forced into prostitution, it would seem that even the unborn children are being ‘drugged’ in the womb. Somewhere, they are forced to be like merciless zombies who breathe and live only for their specific addiction.
On the other hand, the children surviving in these areas are also a part of the nation’s future. If, on the one hand, we can see the brighter side of a progressive India – on the other, there’s also the darker side which is yet to receive the first rays of light. Can we make them see the better side of humanity? The question remains unanswered.
For more pictures related to the story, view the gallery here.
Other pictures by the photographer can be found here.