Kolkata Apr 6, 2011 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS): For the street urchins living on the margins of society, education always remained an elusive dream. However, with non-formal schools like Naba Disha  providing educational opportunities to these present day Oliver Twists of Kolkata, activists say the children were weaned away in many cases from the  world of juvenile crime. Debayani Bose reports

When 14-year-old Viren Dasgupta (name changed) first had his tryst with the jailhouse for stealing a loaf of bread, he knew life was ‘like that’ for those on the streets. Well until Naba Disha, meaning New Director, brought hope and happiness to his Dickensian world of twists, turns, artful dodgers and Fagins.

He is now appearing for his Madhyamik (school final) examination and aspires to become an engineer.

Viren is one among the many children who have benefitted from Naba Disha, a flagship programme of the Kolkata Police running for almost a decade in about 30 police station premises, reaching out to 2294 children for whom education had been a distant dream.

It provides a holistic education and free mid-day meals and health check-ups to children enrolled at the centre.

“Since its (Naba Disha project) inception way back in 1999 it has come a long way. Born out of the need to deal with the problems faced by the community in a much people-friendly way, Naba Disha has reached out to 2,500 children in thirty-three police stations across West Bengal.

“I feel  Naba Disha has played a pivotal role in arresting the juvenile delinquency by weaning away children from the world of crime,’’ Soven Banerjee, Officer-in-charge Community Policing Wing, Kolkata Police, told IBNS.

“The crime rates are much lower than those in other Metros,’’ he claimed.
“We are also planning to start similar initiatives for the skills development of the children,’’ he added.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report of 2007 (latest statistics revealed), Calcutta has the lowest crime rate (number of reported cases per lakh population) among 35 megacities in the country. While the city’s crime rate was 82.5, the figure for Delhi was 397.9, Mumbai 186.2, Bangalore 475.6, Jaipur 606.8 and Indore 792.7.

The NCRB records indicate that over the past several years Kolkata has been persistently maintaining a low crime rate.

“Vikramshila started working in the Naba Disha project in July 1999 when the organisation, through Child Rights and You (CRY), first came to know about the novel endeavour of Kolkata Police to bridge the gap between police and the community,’’ explains Sutopa Chakrabarty,
Programme Manager, Vikramshila Education Resource Society.

“Over the years it has become synonymous with contextual relevant education system for those living on the margins aimed at the holistic development of a child,’’ she adds.

Vikramshila Education Resource Society, an NGO, is working in the field education for the underprivileged children.

It is one of the many NGOs which is working on Naba Disha project in collaboration with the Kolkata Police.

Community Policing Wing has attempted to address crime control through a working partnership with the community.

Community institutions like families, media, educational institutions, social and non-governmental organizations and other  neighbourhood associations are the key stakeholders.

”We need to further strengthen the linkages with other services like CHILDLINE and (24-hour helpline for children in distress situations) formally forge a link for greater benefits of the children.

”I believe more awareness programmes, campaigns on Nabadisha, its work can help the situation,” Sandeep Kumar Mitra, Head East Regional Resources Centre, Childline India Foundation (CIF) opines.

Most of the teachers at the Naba Disha centres have been taught for many years in Naba Disha itself. They have been initiated into teaching through Naba Disha and seemed to have learned on the job.

“A school should be breathing space to the child and Naba Disha provides just that,’’ opines Arti Shome, Core Group teacher working in Naba Disha since 2002.
Not only education, children at the Naba Disha centres are also taught life skills like settling down activities, taking care of oneself, building relationships, positive work habits, self-confidence and
taking care of environment.

The Sishumitas (teachers) at the centres organise regular parent-teachers’ meet, seek their participation in children’s learning as well as celebrates  major festivals and annual sports day.

For children of the lesser God Naba Disha has undoubtedly brought a world of happiness.

“I love coming to the school. We play with the police uncle participate in drawing competition, eat, study and have fun all day,’’ giggles a kid at the Naba Disha centre running at the Karaya police station premises.

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