25 Sept 2012

Unmaking of a thief

Narrated by Piyali Paul, YRC Drishtikon, Dum Dum. Recorded by Shahana Nag, September, 2012.
About Surojit
Surojit is 14 years old and has a younger sister who is 12. He has been struggling with school for some years now. Whenever he failed, he would be moved to a new school which would admit him in the proper class, that is how he managed for a few years. His father didn’t care whether or not he went to school. His mother however was keen that he got a proper education. She got him admitted in a boarding school in a neighbouring district when he was in class VII. However having become habituated to seeing violence he resorted to violence with his classmates. His mother was called for twice by the school. However the last time he beat his classmates very badly, the school asked his parents to take him away.
Family Background
Surojit’s father is a construction worker. He has multiple addictions: bidis, cigarettes, alcohol, ganja. His mother works in people’s homes and faces violence from her husband regularly. Unable to bear the regular physical violence, his maternal aunt invited the mother and the two children to live with her. The father followed them there and now lives with them. They don’t have a home of their own.
Three years back, the aunt’s husband, who was suffering from cancer, committed suicide. The aunt was romantically involved with an unmarried man who continues to stays over at their house and who she calls dada. Surojit has been taught to call him mama [uncle].
Life as a school dropout
Upon returning from the boarding school, Surojit remained a school dropout and started living at home. He soon got into bad company and began smoking cigarettes, drinking chullu, stealing. The gang would steal things like rods and spades from construction sites and sell them to people who break down metal into scraps. They would use the money for their addictions. Some people knew who the culprits were, but they didn’t get caught and the matter went no further.

Once, the gang tried to steal from a house in the adivasi neighborhood. One by one, the young people inserted their hands through a gap in the wall and groped around for things to steal. People inside the house realized what was happening, and got ready with a scythe. Surojit put his hand in last, and they caught hold of it and kept a grip on it. They realized it was small, a child’s hand, so they didn’t cut it off. Meanwhile, Surojit’s friends fled and he alone was caught, beaten and kept in the clubhouse all night. At 4am in the morning, some people from the adivasi para who drank with his father told him where his son was. His father brought Surojit back home, beating him all the time. His mother put him to sleep then, but in the morning, he was chained and locked up.

People from all over the neighbourhood dropped in all day to see the thief, as if he was an animal in a zoo. From then on, he was branded a thief and often chained up. People refused to let him in and stopped their children from interacting with him.
Piyali Paul,  Peer Counsellor
YRC Drishtikon
Read another post by her
Intervention by Peer Counselor
Peer Counselor Piyali lives two houses from Surojit and knew of his background. She had earlier identified Surojit as a vulnerable child and spoke to him at length for the vulnerability study. Piyali also asked her mother to speak to Surojit’s father to stop chaining him up. The father listened and released Surojit.

"One day I heard sobbing noises from their home. I rushed into see Surojit’s aunt holding a pillow over her son’s face to stifle his cries, and her companion beating the little boy mercilessly. Seeing me they removed the pillow but the beating continued. I lowered her eyes and came away, not knowing what to do. My own family had forbidden me from 'interfering'.

I realized that Surojit has grown up in a culture of violence. At home, he was accustomed to seeing his father drink and be violent with his mother. His aunt also beat her own two boys frequently leaving red welts across their body. Surojit was now violent with his younger sister. I felt it was natural for Surojit to resort to violence and delinquency.

I was determined to involve Surojit in the children’s workshops that I was going to conduct in my neighbourhood. However since he was labelled a thief, he resisted coming to the group and facing the other children in the neighbourhood for fear of being taunted. I worked with him separately for a few weeks doing various self-worth activities. In the ‘I Can’ session, he started off by saying that he could do nothing. When asked who appreciated him he said “No one loves me, no one appreciates me. Who do I name?” I asked him to think. He sat quietly for 10 minutes and then eventually thought of two people (My mother and brother) who had said good things about him – one being his football skills.

Several days later, on the 15th August, Surojit won a prize in a football match in an adjacent neighbourhood. He came running to show the prize to me. I found an opportunity and said, “We haven’t won these prizes, you have. Now do you know what you can do?” I made the moment even more special by taking a photograph of him with all his prizes. He felt happy and proud. He had achieved something after a very long time and was appreciated by lots of people. Now he felt confident enough to attend the group workshops.

I was also concerned about the group's reaction. Here I found the Ground Rules that were collectively made by the participants to be helpful. Amongst the list were also points like 'being careful what we say so nobody gets hurt', 'everyone is included'. It was everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the rules were followed. Anyone who breached the rules was reminded by the group of the way they had promised to act.

This strategy helped Surojit be part of the group without being humiliated. He has been coming regularly."

21 Sept 2012

I Believe - Sangita

Sangita Das is a member YRC Drishtikon (2008)
Change Maker, Gender Volunteer ('11)
TF Youth Facilitator since 2012
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"I believe that in society, women and men should get equal spaces and equal opportunities"

Earlier these things didn’t cross my mind. I was brought up in an environment which is stereotypical in its outlook. Here people believe women to be burdens, and don’t consider their wishes and opinions to have any value. If someone has more than one daughter, or doesn’t have a son, their suffering increases.

One such example is my mother. My elder paternal aunt-in-law has five sons, my paternal aunt also has sons. Only my mother doesn’t have a male child. We are three sisters. So these two relatives frequently tell my mother, “We have sons, so no worries” People in our neighbourhood who have sons say, “A gold ring is good, even if out of shape.” We are daughters, so we are fake gold. Hearing these things my mother would be deeply sad and she would cry.

20 Sept 2012

I Believe - Sabir

Sabir Ali is a member of YRC Pratyasha (2011)
participant in TF Empowerment through
Technology Workshops (2012)
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"I believe from my heart that if a person really wants to, he can do anything, however difficult that job is"

I have been applying this belief to my own life from when I was about 8 years old. Many people have influenced this belief in me. Firstly, my family.

We used to live in a small room with no electricity. I used to study in the light of a chimney lamp. There were six members in my family – my parents, my three sisters and me. From childhood, I have struggled a lot, so I am a little different from others who have had it otherwise. I really, deeply feel the value of life.

When I was a child, my father’s financial situation was very bad and it was very hard to run a family of six. Added to this were the expenses for my and my sisters’ education. My father never let us know his struggles but still I understood, even if a little.

I Believe - Krishna

Krishna Goldar is the founder member of
YRC Ujaan (2008), Change Maker,
Youth Trainer ('09), Coordinator of TF programme
to develop new YRCs (2012)
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Also check out this
video on Krishna's group - Ujaan

"I believe that every person around me is valuable and worthy of respect"

I myself don’t know when this belief was first born in me, but for quite some time, I have been noticing this belief being reflected in my interactions with people.
Earlier, wherever I felt something needed to be done, I used to jump into the fray, and feel pride in it. If I felt someone was weak, I used to do all her work; if someone couldn’t see, I would help her cross the road. Any kind of help needed? No problem, I was there!

Now I feel – no, this is not enough. Does the person I am helping need this help so much? This question makes one aware. I ask myself – am I helping this person, or not valuing her abilities? If I didn’t thoughtlessly jump to help, if I paused to ask, “Can I help you in any way?”, then things could become easier. If the person thought that yes, she needed help, then she herself would ask for it. My job would then be not to make her dependent, but rather to assert her faith in her own abilities with the assurance that I was there to support her.

19 Sept 2012

I Believe - Shahina

Shahina Javed is the founder member of
YRC Roshni (2009) Change Maker,
TF Youth Trainer since '10, Coordinator
- Gender and Diversity programme ('11)
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"I believe that whether the situation is good or bad, we always have a choice - to feel strong, or to feel like a victim"

Even as a child, I never liked losing. I always wanted to see myself in the winner’s spot. This doesn’t mean I never lost in life. Whenever I enrolled in a sports event in school, I invariably lost, and my brothers would always win. People at home used to say that I was incapable of doing anything. But my belief in myself never failed. Maybe I lost in sports but I always sought other directions to discover where my talent lay. I was very good in drama and elocution. In these places, I proved myself – that yes, I could do something as well.

Ever since childhood, there were many questions in my mind. Many of these were answered when I joined the Fellowship at Thoughtshop Foundation [TF]. I was like a traveller who knows her destination, but not the way to reach it.

16 Sept 2012

I Believe - Shampa

Shampa Halder is a member of YRC Ujaan (2008)
Change MakerGender Volunteer (2011)
TF Youth Facilitator (2012)
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"I believe that there is no work that women cannot do"

The more I see my mother, this belief increases. I have heard often from her that she has had to tolerate much harassment from society and stand up against a lot to reach a comparatively good place where she is raising us now.

My mother and her brothers were born in a village called Joynagar, amidst a lot of poverty. Let alone two meals a day, there wasn't even a fistful of rice for one meal. My grandparents used to wash utensils at people's homes and farm other people's land. After a day's work, their employers gave them the excess starch produced while boiling rice and this they gave to their children to eat. Ma used to think all the time, "How can one survive on rice starch the whole day?"And inside her, the desire for a better life grew. She used to tell her parents, "One day I will go to Kolkata and earn a lot of money." And actually, one day without telling her parents, she came over to big city Kolkata holding an uncle's hand.

I Believe - Tahsina

Tahsina Bano is a member of YRC Roshni (2009)
Change Maker, Gender Volunteer (2011)
TF Youth Facilitator (2012)
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"I believe that if we open our minds and speak out, then we will succeed in every situation"
Tahsina Bano

I am a 23 year old girl and my name is Tahsina Bano. I started believing this around 3 years back. Then I wasn't even aware that every person could have a system of beliefs or values. It never even crossed my mind that I needed to study and do something in life, or that I would be able to travel long distances alone, because I come from a Muslim family.

I didn't have the freedom to do anything other than my studies, and that too, we were given an education to better our marriage prospects. People in my family couldn't even think of me getting a job or going outside of home. At that time I used to tie my hair into two pigtails and go to school; I used to keep myself tightly wound up, like those pigtails.

15 Sept 2012

I Believe - Basanti

Basanti Karan is a member of YRC Ujaan 
since 2010, Change Maker, Gender Volunteer (2011)
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"I believe that love can be of many kinds, and each kind of love has its own value"

I remember primary school. All of us friends used to play together and sit in the same classroom; among everybody else, I used to love a boy in my friend group. I used to do all my studies before coming to school, so that I wouldn’t get the punishment of doing sit-ups, holding my ears, or beaten in public. I don’t know why, but I liked him the most among other friends. That liking stood still –

We got admitted to different schools. When I was in class XI, one day out of the blue I saw him in Lake Gardens station. He went by as if neither knew the other. The memories of primary school, left behind so long ago, floated in front of my eyes.