Two years ago, Nitin Baswasker dropped out of school and was known for getting involved in street fights. Today, the 17-year-old attends night school, works as a door-to-door salesperson and is a role model to children in his neighborhood.
A recent report found that 377 million people from India’s total population of 1.21 billion are urban dwellers. This number is expected to reach 600 million by 2031, given than more than 10 million people migrate to cities and towns, every year.
What does this mean for the scarce and strained resources in urban agglomerations? For one, we are definitely looking at a vast number of people living in dehumanizing conditions.
A case in point is the financial capital of India, Mumbai, where 41.3 percent of the population lives in the slums. This means a majority of Mumbai’s population can be found in an area where, according to the Census 2011 definition of an urban slum, “dwellings are unfit for human habitation by reasons of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangements and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of street, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facilities or any combination of these factors which are detrimental to safety and health.”
Our story unfolds against a similar backdrop at Annabhau Sathinagar, a slum cluster in Mankhurd of M-East ward; the area has the lowest Human Development Index among the 24 wards of the city.
“I never imagined myself to be a role-model. How could I? At Annabhau Sathinagar, I was a part of a group that indulged in street-fights and substance abuse. All of us were drop-outs and had no inclination towards studies or a career,” says 17-year-old Nitin Bawasker.
Nitin lives with his mother, younger brother and maternal grandmother in the latter’s one-room home at Annabhau Sathinagar.
Most of Nitin’s neighbhours are migrants, from Maharashtra and other States, who moved to Mumbai in search of better livelihood opportunities, but found themselves in low-paying, daily wage work instead.
Nitin has no recollection of a happy childhood. He has a younger brother but never got along with him.
“My father works as a garbage collector in Belapur. He earns Rs. 9,000 a month and spends it entirely on alcohol. He would beat us up under the influence of alcohol. Two months ago, unable to put up with the abuse, my mother asked him to leave. Since then, my father has been living with his friends at Belapur. We don’t get to see him at all except in the evenings, when he sometimes drops by to have food. We don’t miss him,” Nitin says, fighting to keep his voice steady and impassive.
His mother is a domestic help in Vashi, earning Rs. 5000 a month.
“My mother leaves home in the morning only to return late in the evening. She works very hard to feed us and keep us in school. I wish I can relieve her burden after I graduate and start earning well,” Nitin says.
Although Nitin today talks about completing his graduation, his lackadaisical approach to education had him dropping out of school two years ago.
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When asked about this turn around, he replies: “It was because Dilraj bhaiya (a Magic Bus Mentor) never gave up on me. He invited us to attend a education and awareness session two years ago.”
“I was a part of this big group who thought street-fights were cool and being feared was the same as being respected. We went for the first session and quickly dropped out. We thought it required too much discipline to turn up for the sessions every day. We were truants with little or no regard for discipline,” Nitin explains with a laugh.
Dilraj, who is a Youth Mentor at Annabhau Sathinagar, explains how he convinced Nitin to come for the sessions regularly.
“It took me eight months to convince him. I found out more about his situation. I spoke to him about his responsibilities. I used to counsel him to think of his younger brother and mother, and not just loiter around with friends. There was no one in his family to speak to him about these things, to remind him of his responsibilities. Gradually, he started realising how he was wasting his time when his mother and his family needed him,” says Dilraj.
A lot of Nitin’s friends dropped out of the programme but a small number of them stayed back.
“We started realising our responsibilities. We understood that in order to be remembered, we had to inspire people instead of threatening them,” Nitin accepts.
Dilraj’s counselling helped Nitin understand his responsibilities towards his family. It also helped him understand the value of a good education. With Dilraj’s help, Nitin enrolled himself in a night school. He also began working as door-to-door sales person for Life Insurance policy.
“I started earning Rs. 6,000 a month. It was a huge relief for my mother. I negotiated with my employer to adjust my work hours so that I am not late for school,” he explains.
“We have classes inside a Municipal school from 6.30 in the evening till 8.00-8.30 pm. Like me, most of my classmates work during the day. We are all looking to clear our SSC examinations,” Nitin says.
Despite working during the day and going to school at night, Nitin never fails to conduct a Magic Bus session. He gets up early, gathers children, takes them to the field and teaches them various lessons through activity-based sessions.
“I feel happy when they call me ‘bhaiya’ and look up to me for advice and guidance. I try to help them with all I have learnt. I want them to understand the importance of education and not give it up, ever. It is a rewarding role and I look forward to meeting the children every day,” Nitin shares.
Nitin dreams of becoming a businessman one day. “I will start something of my own instead of working for others,” he sums up.