Platform Children of Howrah Station
Once upon a time, they were called Platform Children, street urchins of any age between 4-14 years, who live in hordes on the Howrah and Sealdah station platforms of Kolkata. Most of them are either sexually abused or forced into a beggar racket. Today, the scene hasn’t changed much as we celebrate another International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.Many more such children are added to the platforms daily. But unlike decadesago, when they primarily came as children of refugees or migrant labourers from other states and were forced into sex trade or begging rackets, today they are more a victim of Substance and Drug Abuse, primarily dendrite abuse.Despite several NGOs operating night shelters for such children or even education and food, the drug and substance abuse is rampant among kids on Howrah and Sealdah stations.
According to a UNICEF report, Kolkata alone may have as many as 500,000 street children, most of whom are found along railway tracks and slums. As per a recent research study conducted by Don Bosco Ashramalay, that runs night shelters on platforms, more than 300 child drug addicts are there in Howrah station alone, registered with their organization. A walk along the station platform any evening reveals shocking scenes of half asleep children with dendrite tubes in their dirty hands and innocence smudged on their hungry faces. During the day these children, either sweep train compartment floors, or sell newspapers and small knick-knacks to earn a few bucks, majority of which goes behind buying dendrite tubes and other drugs.
Dendrite and ink whiteners are the hot favourites with these children. They pour these substances into a handkerchief and sniff. That gives them the kick. Gradually they take up hard drugs such as ganja, morphine and heroine and finally get into criminal activities. Many of them permanently stay on platforms, while others daily come from Chengrail, Tikiapra, Santragachi, Burdwan, Asansol and even from some bordering places of Bihar. Records of the Ashramalaya reveal that girls are as susceptible to drugs as boys and are victims of sexual abuse. Some are even forced into prostitution. On and off children fall off trains, or get caught in accidents because in the mornings they are so drugged, that they cannot move properly. Younger children learn the trick from the older ones.
But why do these children make the platform their homes? Mostly kids come from broken homes or in search of food and livelihood. A platform gives them easy livelihood opportunities. There is always some or the other activity that helps them to earn a quick buck. Most of them are involved in ‘train checking’ i.e. collecting empty plastic water bottles, newspapers food and other leftovers of the passengers. While checking the train, they sometimes get cellular phones, spectacles, watches which they promptly sell off to local agents. They sell the empty plastic bottles and newspapers to the local traders who operate from the nearby platforms. Some of them work in the stalls and eateries in and around the station. Many children are also engaged in begging which is a good source of income. In Sealdah station one can earn upto Rs 25-30 per day by selling water bottles, or Rs 50-70 per day by pulling trolleys. A wayside eatery pays a child Rs 50/- per day along with food for carrying water and washing utensils. In Howrah station the income is more because of more number of long distance trains. Most of the children earn more than Rs 100/- per day. Unfortunately, the major part of this money goes in buying drugs, and not food. And despite a large number of NGOs working out of Howrah and Sealdah stations to rehabilitate these Platform Children, drug and substance abuse among them is still rampant!