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So Care, a Trust and free home for children of convicts, also provides vocational training to youngsters not inclined or equipped to go to school or college,writes Aruna Chandaraju

We are sitting at the office of So Care, a Trust and free home for children of convicts, talking to its genial Founder-Secretary V Mani. He is narrating to us how and when this unusual home came into being when Manoj Kumar, a well-mannered, earnest-looking teenager comes in with cups of tea. A group of brightly dressed, giggly, young girls troops in to replace their paint-boxes and books in a cupboard nearby, they have just returned from participating in a painting competition.

We try to chat them up. Manoj, now in his PUC, wants to study law and dreams of becoming a respected, successful lawyer. Some of the girls want to become doctors, a few say “engineer” while the rest only smile shyly and scamper away. These are among the 154 children currently at So Care.

The age of So Care inmates ranges from two to 20 and they are all well-behaved boys and girls who are also studying diligently. Most of them are enrolled at a dozen different private schools, a few are in junior college or engineering colleges and some are undergoing vocational training (like tailoring). All of them are children of lifetime convicts and under-trails across Karnataka’s jails.

It was in the late 1990s that a retired-from-RBI Mani and his wife saw these children languishing outside a jail and were moved by their plight. “These innocent children were suffering because of their parents’ crimes. The children were being deprived not only of parental care but also shunned by society because of the stigma attached to their parent’s status as criminals. We decided to something for these unfortunates,” he explains.

Mani put all his provident-fund savings into the creation of So Care in 1999. It took off with a few children and some likeminded volunteers as staff. Gradually, more children came into this fold and his noble aim became crystallised into a detailed mission statement: Provide comprehensive care to the children of lifetime convicts and undertrails. This care covers food, shelter, clothing, education and health care and help them grow into physically and emotionally healthy, normal individuals. Teach the children to be self-confident and help them integrate with the community. Rehabilitate the convicts’ families. Provide vocational training to children not inclined or not equipped to go to school or college. So Care is now a unit of Sharada Peetham (Sringeri).

The power of a good education

Founder-Secretary V Mani.For the children who live here, the facility is truly a great blessing. They are given good clothes, and delicious, nutritious meals, and all their health needs are taken care of. And they are all being educated carefully. As Vice-President M M Rao, whom Mani describes as his great support, explains, “Education is the great liberating force for these children. It is the key to their future happiness, success, and future integration into society.

Additionally, some children are also enrolled in painting or Bharatanatyam classes or in a sport depending on what they show inclination and aptitude for. Besides, we emphasise the imbibing of good human values.”

However, ensuring their emotional well-being is probably the toughest job, considering all of them are ridden with a stigma. That is because, the law only metes out punishment, but sadly, society places a stigma on the wrongdoer and his family, and looks down on them. It is a stigma which blights the victim’s family. Also, many of these children have been traumatised. Many of them are victims of a variety of abuses like child labour for example.

There are some children who have actually witnessed their mother or father commit the crime.

There are two siblings who saw their father murdering their mother. And some are in anguish because they believe their parent is innocent but wrongly convicted. However, their emotional health is ensured by the loving and caring atmosphere created at So Care by the staff, all of whom display a very sensitive approach to the children.

Mani explains how all this has had a wonderfully gratifying additional result. The children’s betterment has been a positive influence on the convict/undertrial parents. Generally, many hardened criminals and petty offenders tend to be unrepentant and cynical, even justifying their acts saying: after all ‘what has society done for us, it is full of selfish, unjust people’. “However, once they see their children receiving so much unconditional, unlimited love and their lives being transformed for the better, these criminals tend to soften up and understand that society is not so evil and cruel after all. Introspection and self-correction set in. All this reduces their cynicism and also instills some hope, positivity, and human values in them,” explains Mani.

This good work has received recognition. Many an award and honour have come both to So Care and Mani in particular.

These include the Mother Teresa Excellence Award, Scroll of Honour from Jayaram Foundation, Canara Bank Recognition and Appreciation of Services to the Society, Shadaksharappa and Tara Charities award, and now the Harmony Silver Award from Harmony for Silvers Foundation.

Yet, Mani himself is largely unaffected by all this fame as he goes about his work quietly and unobtrusively. “As long as a person has productive years left in him, he should contribute to society. And I am only doing that duty,” he says humbly.

FUTURE CARE

*So Care plans to set up a facility to support at least 500 children in the next five years.

* The ultimate target is 1,500 children as there are 1,500 life-convicts in jails in Karnataka, Mani tells us.

* They also plan to establish a vocational training centre called Endeavour to train the inmates and other youth in specific vocations.

 

Source : Deccan Herald

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