At the age of 11, Dev Pratap ran away from his home with only Rs 130 in his pocket to leave his abusive father behind.
After befriending a group of children on the train to Gwalior, he began picking and selling waste bottles with them.
“Before I knew it, I had joined them in stealing iron and metal objects from the railway station and selling them to a scrap dealer. It wasn’t long before I also got into the habit of inhaling whiteners and consuming easily available drugs,” Dev recalls.
To find the money to buy more, he started robbing people. Life took a turn when he was arrested and was jailed for 15 days. “They were the worst 15 days of my life,” he recalls.
Here, he suffered through an unsanitary environment and unsympathetic fellow inmates until Raja Parmar, a good samaritan, bailed him out and provided him with better living conditions.
He found a job in a dhaba as a waiter, deciding to change his life for good. Eventually, he became the manager of a store in Gwalior.
One day, on his way to work, he saw a group of children picking up garbage. He was reminded of his own childhood, he says. "That day, I felt like I should do something for these kids."
This incident laid the founding stone for his NGO, Voice of Slum, which he started in 2016, along with Chandini Khan, a former street acrobat who earned her living through begging.
They visit the slums of Gwalior every day and feed more than 1,000 people. Additionally, the duo has enrolled 800 students in school and paid for their education.
"We monitor each child on a daily basis to ensure they don't return to the streets," Dev explains.
VoS takes a child under their wing and provides free education for a year. These ‘tuition classes’ are to prepare the child for mainstream education. After a year of taking VoS classes, the child is enrolled in a school.