Shahrukh is a young boy who bears the burden of supporting his family, while also giving hope for a better future to the children of his community.
According to the 2011 Census, there are 13.7 million slum households in India. They constitute more than 17% of the urban households in the country. Life in these slums of teeming mega cities like Delhi represents deprivation at various levels.
Improper housing, lack of sanitation, poor access to health care and education, and lack of livelihood options make children and adolescents living in these areas extremely vulnerable.
21-year-old Shahrukh from Tughlaqabad village recounts what it is like to live in an urban slum:
“My father migrated from Bilapur village near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh before I was born. We are Muslims of Darzi (Idrisi) caste. This means we are tailors by birth and profession,” he smiles, adding, “I don’t know any tailoring work though. I don’t wish to become a tailor like my father”.
Shahrukh’s father migrated to Delhi in search of work. “He wasn’t looking for anything apart from his caste-based profession. He thought he could earn more as a tailor working in Delhi than in some unknown village of UP.” After staying for some time at his brother-in-law’s house in Tughlaqabad village, Shahrukh’s father and uncle pooled their resources to buy a small piece of land from the Gujjars in Tughlaqabad village.
What Shahrukh and his family of seven calls their home is, in fact, a single room that stands among a row of brick buildings overlooking a narrow lane.
“This is Churiya mohalla, home to all Muslim families,” explains Shahrukh. There are several such mohallas or communities within Tughlaqabad village. “There is a Bengali colony where a majority of Bengalis and Madrasis live together. Then, there is a Jat colony for Chamars, a scheduled caste community. There is a separate colony for the upper castes called Pandit colony. The Gujjars reside in Jalam mohalla and Bazaar mohalla,” Shahrukh explains.
There is unrestricted mobility between these separate clusters – the only marker, perhaps, of urbanisation and increasing interdependence.
“I am the only earning member in my family right now. My entire salary goes in supporting the family,” says 21-year-old Shahrukh.
Two years ago, Shahrukh’s father was the sole earning member of the family. He worked as a tailor and made Rs. 5,000 per month.
“Imagine a seven-member family surviving on Rs. 5,000! We have known what the lack of basic necessities means since our childhood. Although my uncle and aunt share our home they make no contribution to the family income. I was under a lot of pressure to work after I finished high school. This increased after my father started suffering from weakening eyesight. He lost his job soon after,” he explains.
In 2011, Shahrukh enrolled himself as a volunteer in the the Magic Bus programme in Tughlaqabad, which ensures children complete their education and become socially and economically independent when they grow up.
“Initially, I was attracted to the fact that I could play. After my first training as a Community Youth Leader, I began understanding what it was all about,” he shares.
As a volunteer, Shahrukh discovered his potential as a mentor to young children.
“When I started conducting sessions in Tughlaqabad, I was surprised at the degree of violence among young children. Even the smallest fights would get them to hurl abuses and indulge in fistfights. I was shocked to see a large group of children taking to substance abuse,” he shares. “Within a year, all this has changed. I saw I could influence children to adapt to a better way of life without violence. During my stint as the volunteer, I enrolled many of them in school.”
Shahrukh says that despite the financial crises he was battling at home, being a Magic Bus volunteer actually made him reflect on the larger crises facing his community. He was determined not to suffer the fate of his father so, in 2015, Shahrukh decided to be a Magic Bus staff member. He applied for the position of Youth Mentor and was selected.
“Apart from the fact that it gives me a source of income, my role as a Youth Mentor has actually brought me in touch with the lives of 500 children in my neighbourhood. I know them individually – their problems, their doubts and aspirations. When I see them changing in a positive way, I feel proud. When they call me bhaiya and share their problems, I feel important. This is why I enjoy being a Youth Mentor.”
Shahrukh is currently doing his B.Com from Ram Lal Anand college, which is affiliated to Delhi University. All his younger siblings are in school. Although Shahrukh’s entire salary goes in meeting the needs of his family, he plans to save enough to support his dream of becoming a chartered accountant one day.
“I know the tuition classes will be expensive. I hope I can become a Training and Monitoring Officer in Magic Bus soon. I can then save up some money to finance my CA classes,” he says.