On Sunday morning, a group of volunteers took up the task to clear the mounds of plastic waste on the banks of the Gomati river in Lucknow.
While clean-up initiatives are nothing new—almost every city has a band of socially conscious citizens—this drive was quite unusual because all the 17 volunteers, who had formed a human chain to clear plastic waste from the ghats, were once beggars.
In less than three hours, they cleared out two sections of the riverbank and fished out one ton of trash using shovels, brooms and wicker baskets which will be collected by the Lucknow Municipal Corporation in the week.
This unique initiative was led by Sharad Patel who is the founder of Badlaav, a non-profit organisation in Lucknow. Badlaav works towards ending the social evil of begging through rehabilitative and employment opportunities.
All these volunteers are people who were victims of abject poverty and found respite in begging before Sharad stepped into their lives.
After spending considerable time convincing them to stop begging, he then worked towards helping them get jobs that would make them independent and not reliant on someone else’s mercy or leftovers.
But one issue persisted.
“While I helped them get jobs, these people were still homeless. There was no way that they could safeguard the wages they earned—many of them would get robbed while they slept on the streets. The entire agenda of helping them stand on their feet was proving to be futile, which led me to open a shelter,” says Sharad to The Better India.
Through crowdfunding, he managed to raise a temporary shelter which can house 20 members and currently offers refuge to 18 people, including an individual who is visually impaired.
The move to clear the ghats of the Gomati river is part of a larger initiative by Sharad, to bring about a more significant change in not just the lives of the rehabilitated folks but more importantly, the society as well.
“Rehabilitating beggars by giving them shelter and employment aren’t my only goals. I want them to become aware of their civic responsibilities and work towards them. I identified 12 different social evils that need to be eradicated and then made a plan involving all these people, excluding the visually impaired person. They will dedicate their free time across six Sundays by engaging in activities covering two areas. We started on Basant Panchami this Sunday, and aim to finish this campaign by Holika Dahan,” explains Sharad.
Just the way Holika Dahan symbolises the end of evil, Sharad wants the volunteers to use this initiative to bid goodbye to their former life and turn over a new leaf.
“While these activities are just a one-time practice from my end, the volunteers have promised that they will continue working on different issues throughout the year. On Holika Dahan, each log on the pyre that we will be setting fire to, will be dedicated to a social evil that we have covered,” he concludes.
We had earlier written about Sharad’s crusade against begging and his painstaking efforts to provide a second chance to beggars about a year back. You can read his entire story here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)