An unlikely pair of a Delhi Police constable and a 13-year-old girl is slowly but surely transforming the lives of many underprivileged children in the Red Fort area.
Than Singh, a constable at the Red Fort Police Post and Ankita, a student of the Jain Senior Secondary School in Chandni Chowk, organise classes for as many as 19 slum children whose parents are either daily wage labourers or involved in other menial jobs, such as cleaning and maintaining the historic Red Fort.
Popular for his perseverance and a big heart, Singh himself was born and brought up in a JJ cluster. Though he tried everything, from ironing clothes to selling corn and serving at a restaurant, to fund his education, he was forced to drop out of college in the final year due to adverse circumstances. He now sponsors the books, stationery and other necessary items for the children.
Ankita, who actually teaches the kids, was born and brought up inside the quarters at the Red Fort. Her father works as an electrician and also serves tea to make ends meet. The sharp and optimistic teen comes to teach these children after finishing her own classes.
The Sai Baba Mandir near the Red Fort, usually out of bounds for the public, is the duo’s preferred spot to educate, learn and thrive. This make-shift tiny tuition centre recognises the children for who they are — curious and eager to learn — without considering their financial circumstances.
The initiative has received the support of SHO (Kotwali) Om Prakash Lekhwal and PP Red Fort incharge Pradeep as well, who recently sponsored sweaters for the children. Now the children have taken to those sweaters as their uniform and wear them for the class daily.
Everyday, the spartan little room turns into a zone of positive energy. Some posters of Gods and education-related material, a blackboard, a mat and the palpable enthusiasm are the only things that adorn the room where these kids study.
“Some kids are very intelligent. Initially, there was some resistance but then we made sure that all the kids came together. They are also very attached to anything we give them and treasure it dearly,” Ankita says.
Mausam, 6, used to pick plastic bottles from the Red Fort lawns. Now the proud child says she knows how to count from 1 to 20. Other kids also used to roam around, picking up bottles, selling water, papad and chutneys, among other sundry items. But now they are enthusiastic about their education. The fact that they are provided chips, candies and paranthas, along with some sports equipment, on a regular basis is just the icing on the cake.
Mahesh, 14, had come to the Red Fort four years ago along with his father, who cleans the stones and marble at the Fort. “I sold water bottles here. Papa enrolled me at a school in Jabalpur but I did not study much and then we moved here. Now, I come to this class every day. I know the alphabet, names of fruits and vegetables, and numbers till 50,” he says.
For this lot that was almost invisible in the shadow of the national monument, the future now seems a little brighter.