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Bengaluru: Unshackling prisoners’ children, giving wings to their dreams

Vision is to establish a pro-active society for the children of convicts in an atmosphere where equality prevails.
Socare IND today houses 110 boys, 61 girls across three branches 	(Photo: SOCARE IND)

 Socare IND today houses 110 boys, 61 girls across three branches (Photo: SOCARE IND)

Bengaluru: “The hands that serve are holier than the lips that pray,” was once quoted by the late V Mani. He was a person who understood the stigma of the children of prisoners. That is why in July1999 after retiring from the Reserve Bank of India, Mani started SOCARE IND (Society’s Care for Indigent) with initially just two children, at his residence in Rajajinagar.

The first year they had only four children but today they have 110 boys, 61 girls and 3 branches. Unfortunately Mani passed away in November 2013 and the organisation is now being looked after by his friends who incidentally are all above seventy years of age, as his children have settled abroad.

The organsiation provides comprehensive care for children under sufferance of multi-pronged deprivation of socio-economic and self-inflicted hues. Their vision is to establish a pro-active society for the children of convicts in an atmosphere where equality prevails.

R.Venkatanathan who is the secretary of the organisation and also a retired RBI employee said, “These children need the utmost affection and care. Most of them come from a very poor background and 70 per cent of them are children of convicts sentenced to life imprisonment.

They carry a stigma. Here we try to provide them with an atmosphere where they can lead a healthy and happy life. We also provide help to children who have either no father or mother and come from a socially and economically backward background.”

He further added, “We provide them with food and shelter and send them to nearby schools and colleges. Since this organisation is quite old now, most of our children are now going to colleges and are doing really well in their respective fields.

Some are mechanical engineers and we have children working in Kotak Mahindra after doing their MBA, we also have students with diplomas in telecommunications and the like.”

Most of their children are from Gulbarga as the jail authorities in Gulburga took proactive efforts in sending the children of the convicts to SOCARE. They have a hostel in Gulburga, which houses 21 boys.

A piece of land measuring 4,800 sq ft has been acquired on a long lease from the Gulbarga Development Authority (GDA) which is earmarked for building a hostel & a vocational training centre. Plans are on to set up vocational training centres in various jails for the benefit of the inmates.

In Bengaluru, they have two branches, one in Rajajinagar where girls stay and two other buildings in Laggare, Peenya. Currently, they have a boys’ hostel there and in an old building adjacent to this land, there is a girls’ hostel.

They want to bring all of them under the same roof at Laggare. In fact, they have sent proposals to two companies to help them with the infrastructure as per CSR initiative.

The new boys’ hostel at Laggare, Peenya, with a capacity to house 160 children was commissioned in 2014. A proposal to remodel the existing Girls’ Hostel at Laggare, Peenya is under active consideration.

The majority of the children excel in sports, dance, painting and martial arts, etc. Two girls passed their Bachelor of Commerce examination (B Com) securing 1st class and have joined the most prestigious professional Chartered Accountants course.

A boy who secured more than 90% in Std XI is pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. A girl who completed her MBA in finance with the support of Socare Ind, is gainfully employed in a leading private sector bank as an executive. Majority of them are first generation school goers. They are longing to make a positive difference in the society that shunned them.

SOCARE IND has impacted the lives of the parents of these children. Their expectations are that the future of their children should be much better than theirs. They look forward to their children’s bright future in the safe hands of SOCARE.

They have also impacted other communities as well. A large number of individual volunteers support SOCARE IND with material and financial help. People’s awareness about the huge problem and the need to address them seriously is on the increase.

Venkat said, “There has been help from various sectors, but it is not consistent apart from the Rs 50,000 per month from Sri Sharada Peetam, Sringeri. Also Shena Sampada supports the education of 20 children in a particular school. Many educational institutions do give us concessions.”

The children are taken to Gulbarga to meet their parents during their vacations in jail, when the organisation shares the report cards of their children. They spend some time with their parents and are back again to their respective SOCARE homes.

About SocareInd

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

Music Program to raise funds for SocareInd

As a Reserve Bank of India employee, V.R. Mani used to cycle to work every day three decades ago. His route would pass by the then Central Jail, and it upset him to see the children of convicts sob and wail as their parents took leave of them.

Moved by their plight, he was determined to do something about it. When he retired, he ploughed all his money to start Socare Ind (Society’s Care for Indigents) in 1999, aided by his supportive wife. Today, the home provides boarding, lodging and education to nearly 75 children of convicts. All the children attend regular private schools with state board syllabus both in English and Kannada, with financial support coming in from individual and corporate contributions.

Benefit concert

To help these growing schoolchildren, Socare has organised Sur Sandhya 2011 on Christmas Eve, a thematic musical evening brought together by Saras Communications. Says Mr. Mani: “Saras Communications does not arrange ticketed concerts. They believe in bringing connoisseurs and music lovers together, who voluntarily and willingly contribute to the noble cause to help our objective get across. It will help our new initiative of buildings for our Socare – Bangalore and Gulbarga homes.”

Artistes

Leading artistes from Mumbai and Bangalore — Abhijit Ghoshal, Madhura Datar, Archana Udupa, Chandrika Gururaj, Arvind, Deepak, Aparupa Gupta — will perform for an orchestra conducted by the renowned Shabbir, which will be a tribute to the greatest Bollywood music composers. Aditya Rao, noted vocalist from the U.S. and lead singer on the web-based music channel, Shruti Box, will be another attraction at Sur Sandhya.

Source : The Hindu

Shruthi and Meiraba: Two children of SocareInd

Without a secure start, these children have achieved a measure of success

In schools across the city on Monday, Children’s Day will be marked by cultural programmes, games and festivities. On this occasion, we bring to you stories of four children who have battled against tremendous odds, and despite not having the launch pad of a safe and secure upbringing, have managed to achieve a measure of success in their lives.

Durga (15)

Nearly a year ago, Durga’s story shocked us. She was rescued from a house in HSR Layout, where she worked as domestic help and was brutally abused by her employer, an Infosys employee. But today, Durga doesn’t want to speak about her gory past, or of her childhood in a West Bengal village, where orphaned early, she quit schooling after Class 3, worked as domestic help and was then brought to Bangalore.

Recuperated and healthy, Durga is all smiles today and chatters incessantly about her experience on stage. “I did a Kannada folk dance, and we are up for an encore,” she says, still attired in her costume. She is studying in the seventh standard at the Association for Promotion of Social Action (APSA), a non-governmental organisation. Durga speaks in fluent Kannada and says is most excited about learning English.

“I do not want to look back. I want to study hard, and maybe become a software engineer and work in a big office.” If not, she says, she would like to help rescue and rehabilitate children who continue to work as child labourers. Though she emphasises she does not want to look back at the horrendous torture and pain afflicted upon her while she worked here, her childish demeanour belies her grit and desire to “change the world”. She says: “I want to do everything I can to make sure what happened to me does not happen to anyone else.”

Shruthi (10)

Shruthi was only six when her father was sent to Gulbarga prison for fraud. With a brother barely a few years older than her, and her mother who struggled to make ends meet on their farm in Hariyal, she was forced to discontinue school.

Today, three years later, she beams when her rank is mentioned. “I stood fifth in a class of 48 students,” she says. Brought to Bangalore by NGO Socare Ind, she studies in an English medium school. A far cry from her single-roomed rural school where teachers rarely came, her rank is a testament of her enthusiasm for her new school here.

To catch up with her classmates by learning English from scratch was understandably difficult. “I had to practise A for apple, B for banana in second standard, even though the other children were reading English stories.” Add to this is the difficulty of having to face the stigma of being the daughter of a convict. Teachers speak of instances when some parents asked their wards to not mingle with these children. But Shruthi bravely brushes away the stigma with a smile, instead preferring to worry about bettering her Mathematics grades — a subject she abhors. On the future she says, “I want to become a doctor. It gives me a chance to save lives.”

Meena (13)

Ask Meena what she likes most about her life now, a year after she was rescued from her job in the kitchen of a nursing college hostel in Malleswaram, and pat comes the reply: “I can play, I can study and I only have to take care of my personal work. A year ago I would have never imagined that I could dance on the stage (during the Children’s Day programme at APSA) or be able to study like other children.” In less than a year, she has finished several bridge courses and is all set to give her all-important seventh standard exam.

Having quit schooling early, and with no parents to fend for her, Meena started working as domestic help very early in her life. “When I was working, all I used to think is how to finish the work for that day. Now, I know that I can have a future,” she says, adding timidly, that she wants to “work towards becoming a doctor”.

Meiraba Mangang (14)

At 14, Meiraba Mangang, who was born in a little town near Imphal, Manipur, is a source of inspiration to many. Bright and evidently hardworking, Meiraba has been training in the martial art Taekwondo. He represented India and bagged the ‘best fighter’ title at the South Asian Championship for Taekwondo held in Kathmandu, Nepal.

A member of the football team, and an ardent Cristiano Ronaldo fan, this teenager who now aspires to be a computer engineer in “the age of computers”, has come a long way from his humble beginnings in a poor family in Manipur, where despite his parents working hard to put him through school, classes were barely held owing to prolonged curfews. Today, studying in ninth standard, his sporting talent makes him a hero of sorts at Parikrma, a school for the underprivileged at Sahakarnagar. He says that after school he hopes to be able to help more underprivileged children.

Source : The Hindu

SocareInd Unit opens at Gulbarga

Regional Commissioner Rajneesh Goel inaugurating the Gulbarga unit of the Society's Care for Indigent in Gulbarga on Sunday.

Regional Commissioner Rajneesh Goel inaugurating the Gulbarga unit of the Society’s Care for Indigent in Gulbarga on Sunday.

The children of prisoners serving long sentences in different jails in districts in North Karnataka will have better opportunities with Society’s Care for the Indigent’s (Socare Ind) decision to establish a residential unit for them here.

Socare Ind’s second residential unit was formally inaugurated in a rented building here on Sunday by Regional Commissioner Rajneesh Goel. Originally an initiative taken by a few concerned individuals headed by retired Assistant General Manager of the Reserve Bank of India Venkataraghavachari Mani, Socare Ind’s aim was to help the children of the prisoners, who were unsuspecting victims of the crimes committed by their parents.

Later, the Sri Sharada Peetam at Sringeri took responsibility for implementing the project.

The project, which took off in a small way with two children who were given shelter by Mr. Mani and his wife Saroji in their home in 1998-99, now has 166 children housed in its Bangalore unit, providing quality education and a decent living experience in their residential ashram.

The first two students, Manjunath and Shashikumar, whose parents are still serving sentences in the Bangalore Central Jail at Parappana Agrahara, are bright students pursuing Pre University courses in Bangalore.

“I am satisfied…the initiative taken by my friends and I has started paying dividends….our efforts to provide a new and decent life to the children of prisoners serving long sentences is having an impact on their parents as well, and prison officials acknowledge that there has been a qualitative improvement in the behaviour of these prisoners,” Mr. Mani said.

Mr. Mani has converted his house in Bangalore into a hostel for girls and the boys are housed in a separate building at Laggere in Bangalore. “Socare Ind has not sought help from the State government so far and has been managing with contributions from well-meaning citizens,” he said. The annual expenditure to maintain these children at the Bangalore unit came to around Rs. 35 lakh.

Socare Ind president V.R. Ramesh told presspersons here on Sunday that a school following the CBSE syllabus would be established in Gulbarga to provide quality education to the children admitted to their Gulbarga centre, for free. Twelve children have been admitted to the Gulbarga centre, and at present they were enrolled in a local school. By 2013, Socare Ind would have its own school on its own land, he said.

“We propose to open this school for other children from economically backward sections on a day-scholar basis,” Mr. Ramesh said.

Every year the children under Socare Ind are taken to the prisons where their parents are serving their sentences for a family reunion. The children are allowed to stay in their respective villages for three months, with the aim of preserving family ties.

Source : The Hindu

Harmony’s Silvers of the Year

A man who believes that the world is a dark place only when we close our eyes, he provides children of life convicts in Bengaluru, food, shelter, education and the courage to claim a future unsullied by social stigma

When we meet Venkataragavachari Mani, he greets us with a bouquet of flowers, the cost of which, he later confesses, weighs heavily on his mind. “For a minute, I wondered if I can afford to throw money away on such courtesies.” Mani’s unvarnished frankness can be baffling, but his thrift springs from a generous heart. “Every rupee I save can make a lot of difference to my children,” he says. He is referring to the 154 boys and girls, aged between two and 18 years, who live in SOCARE IND (Society’s Care for The Indigent), a non-profit trust that serves as a hostel for children of convicts serving life sentences in jails across Karnataka.

When we enter the unpretentious three-storied row house in Rajajinagar in Bengaluru, 19 of those children stand in a queue near the gate. They have taken the day off from school to meet the Harmony team while the rest are attending class in schools nearby. The youngest—Shyam, all of two years—leads the file. Cherubic, with a smile a mile wide, he confidently proffers his palm for a handshake. Others in the group are quick to follow. You cannot help but return their robust unanimous chorus of “good morning” with an equally loud one of your own. Mani watches the exchange with fatherly pride. As we settle into his cramped office room on the ground floor, the children’s animated voices in the courtyard provide a mildly chaotic background score. Squeals and giggles overlap with the innocent rhymes of ‘ring-a-ring-o’-roses’ and the mandatory calls of hide-and-seek. However, it’s only when Mani starts recounting their stories that we realise how arduous the journey has been to arrive at this scene of cheerful chaos.

 

Children are not just empowered with
education, but are also offered
opportunities to hone their latent talents

“Every day on my way to work, I used to pass by the Central Jail,” reminisces Mani. “The sight of the children and wives of prisoners waiting outside the gate braving the rain and blazing sun used to haunt me all day at work. One day I decided that after retirement I would do something to ease their pain.” True to his word, when he retired as assistant general manager from RBI in 1999, he invested his savings—Rs 300,000—to convert his house ‘Desik’ into a children’s hostel. Today the house is filled with children whose destinies were once horribly entwined with the dark crimes—murders, dacoity and sexual offences—committed by their parents. Many have seen their fathers set their mothers on fire; many others have been mute witness to their mothers poisoning their fathers. “Ninety five per cent of the cases involve one parent killing the other over infidelity or as retaliation from oppression,” explains trustee Asha Narasimhan, 68. “The children have been orphaned even though they have one parent who is alive.”

Though none of the children may ever fully disengage from their past, now they have at least learnt to let go of their inhibitions and low self-esteem and are reaching out for a future with hope. “I don’t know what I would have become if it were not for Mani Uncle,” says 18 year-old Yuvraj who has been at SOCARE for the past six years. His father murdered his brother’s wife in a fit of rage and is now serving a life sentence in prison. Raised by his grandmother who sold idli for a living, the reserved teenager is a hardware networking apprentice at Canara Bank and is aiming for a life less ordinary. “I plan to do my master’s in computer applications soon,” he says with resolute self-assurance. Like him, 17 year-old Sangeeta, studying at Vivekananda College, is sure of her future trajectory. When we ask her about her goals in life, she doesn’t even blink an eye before uttering succinctly: “professor”. Sixteen year-old Sushma too has her plans chalked out for a master’s degree in business management. For every story filled with optimism and hope, though, there is one taut with remembered misery. Usha, 12, has eyes that speak of a lifetime of pain. Sexually abused by her stepfather, she was rescued following intervention from neighbours and a local NGO, who had her father arrested and jailed. Her mother, who was blind and ill-equipped to take care of her and her two year-old brother Shyam, is no more. Usha and Shyam were brought to SOCARE at the behest of the children and women’s division of Bengaluru High Court.

 

“I do not probe for information on their past, if it pains them,” says Mani. He still doesn’t know the background of Shilpa, a painfully shy 17 year-old whose footsteps are as muffled as her voice. Sold many times over as a child labourer before the age of 10, Shilpa was found abandoned at a bus station, dazed with trauma. Unlettered all through her formative years, she had trouble coping with studies and social interaction when she was admitted to a school. Mani tutored her at SOCARE and later enrolled her in a tailoring class. Shilpa’s intense eyes and gentle voice have won over the admiration of 25 year-old Siddharaju, the boys’ warden at SOCARE—the two plan to marry early next year. “I am raising funds to gift her a fixed deposit of Rs 100,000,” says Mani with all the protectiveness of a loving father.

Though he is now adept at galvanising people to contribute to the cause, he still remembers the time when all he had was a dream, and not too many people who believed in it. “When I heard about his idea to educate and provide a home for children of prisoners, I was sceptical of his idealism,” remembers Shobhana Ravi, Mani’s sister-in-law. “But when he came home with two tiny tots one day, I knew that if there was anyone who could take up this superhuman challenge, it was him.” Today, Ravi is one of the most ardent champions of SOCARE and helps bring in donations through her vast network of friends.

 

Mani’s greatest supporter, however, was his wife Saroji who passed away in 2008. “Initially she was apprehensive, but all her reservations vanished when I came home with two tiny three year-old boys,” remembers Mani. As their children were already settled abroad—Mani’s son Desik and daughter Sumathi are in the US and the youngest Shobha lives in Sydney—they had no qualms about sharing their space. “My wife adjusted to the sustained influx of children with a quiet acceptance.” Mani launched the cause after prolonged discussions with former DGP (Prisons) L Revannasiddiah. As the convicts belonged to jails across Bellary, Mysore, Gulbarga and Dandupalya, he had to travel to each place to convince jail officials of his sincerity. Even today, SOCARE regularly invites jail officials to inspect their premises and spend time with the children. “I am handling the children of some of the most dangerous criminals in Karnataka,” he says. “One mistake on my part and I could be hauled up.” Children are admitted to SOCARE with all papers duly processed and signed by the court.

“The process of choosing deserving children is both tedious and painful,” says M S Srihari, legal advisor and trustee. “How does one decide which child is more deserving? Each child’s eyes reach out to you with the same measure of despair.” Mani and his team of trustees screen children on the basis of poverty, age and number of children in each family and after a long dialogue with each convict. In May 2010, he brought home 35 children from Gulbarga. Every new batch takes some time to acclimatise to the new environment. SOCARE has regular sessions with child counsellors to help ease the transition.

 

Though his hands and house are full with children, Mani often broods about the ones left behind. “My dream is to be able to accommodate children from at least 1,000 families.” Lofty, perhaps, but it probably stems from his past when he was the main provider for a large family. The eldest of eight siblings, he was born and brought up in a village near Kanchipuram in an orthodox Tamil Iyengar Brahmin family. He still fondly remembers his simple upbringing; moving to Mumbai in search of job; finding one as a typist at the Accountant General’s office; and then moving onto a successful career at the RBI office in Bengaluru. While working with the AG’s office, Mani also did his master’s in political science from KC College in Mumbai, following it up with a diploma in industrial finance. Along the way he read up extensively on politics, and found himself being drawn to Communism. “I am waiting for the day when casteism is totally eradicated and people are truly free to pursue their chosen path,” he says with all the vehemence of an ideologue. “I am all for statelessness.”

In his rational view of the world, there is no room for moral judgement. He believes in offering a second chance and encourages his wards to forgive and forget. Children are escorted to meet their jailed parents once every three months and parents are allowed to call once every month. When convicts are let off on parole, he invites them over to SOCARE to stay overnight with their children. “We can provide the children with love and compassion,” he says. “But we can never be a substitute to their parents.” Nevertheless his wards flock to him like bees, “Uncle, uncle, uncle”…they call out excitedly. In return, Mani argues, teases and corrects their manners and, through all of it, never fails to treat them as equals. He wearily admits that like children all over the world, it’s tough to get them to sit at one place. “Sometimes, they insist on going to the park and I let them because that’s the only way I can get them to study for an hour in the evenings.” He often takes them to visit the planetarium, zoo and museums. And to hone their individual talents, many are enrolled in classes for taekwondo, computers and Bharatanatyam. All the children have been admitted into reputed English and Kannada-medium schools: East West English School, Parikrama Primary School, Aniketan English School, Mount Scenerio and Rajiv Gandhi Memorial School to name a few. Fees are subsidised and sometime waived, thanks to his appeals to school authorities. “I request them not to divulge the background of these children as this can lead to discrimination among their peers.”

Over the years SOCARE has invested in two Omni vans and an auto-rickshaw to ferry children back and forth from their schools. There are 12 resident staff including drivers, cooks, wardens and cleaning staff and 15 part-time teachers who teach the kids in the evening. Adolescents and teenagers wash their own clothes and those of the younger children. Space is a huge constraint, one that has also strengthened the bonds shared by the kids. At night, children sleep in every available space—seven rooms on the ground floor, four on the first floor and the roofed terrace. “When I go on my rounds to switch off their lights, I can hear their whispers and giggles,” says Mani with an amused chuckle.

 

Shilpa, who was earlier a child labourer,
found solace in SOCARE and a life
partner in warden Siddharaju

Blankets, clothes and bags are piled high in each room. By day, the covered terrace is a classroom, filled with brightly-coloured benches. “Some children find the life here far too regimented and they wish to go back home,” says Mani. “We let them if they insist, but they are clearly informed that they won’t be accepted back if they wish to return.” While the facility in Rajajinagar has 66 girls, another larger bungalow, 6 km away in Leggere, was purchased in 2006 to accommodate adolescent and teenage boys. Mani pledged his wife’s jewellery to make the down payment on the house which was bought for Rs 3 million. He and his team of trustees are now working out plans to build another house in the vacant adjacent plot donated to them by a patron. Talks are also on to acquire land in Sajjapura Road in Bengaluru, where they plan to set up a crèche, hostel, school, a clinic for the poor and a senior citizens’ home.

“He is all heart and I often have a tough time making him understand that we can’t just keep accommodating children till we have more resources,” says R Venkatanathan, 65, a trustee and close friend of Mani. The trustees, all silvers and friends, have known each other for years now. Their arguments are often vociferous. “Sometimes, some of us even walk out in a huff when we disagree on a point, but we are always united by our cause,” says treasurer V Narayanan, 64. The trustees have already made plans to sustain the legacy. SOCARE is registered as a unit of Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetam, a world-renowned spiritual organisation. “At least, SOCARE won’t disintegrate just because we are not around,” says Mani with a contented smile.

The institution incurs an annual expenditure of Rs 4 million, all of which is met through donations. The daily lunch—a nutritious vegetarian meal of sambhar, rasam, vegetables, curd, salad, chapattis and a dessert—is supplied by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Mani’s children donate to the cause every month and have also rounded up NRI donors who send money regularly. Contributions of all kinds are welcome: clothes, groceries, toiletries, toys and books. “One of our most generous donors is a poor old woman Laxmi who has donated Rs 50 every month for the past nine years,” says Mani. “The true mark of generosity is not how much you give but what you retain. I don’t want to retain anything.” Mani means what he says—his monthly pension in the past 12 years has been spent entirely on the future of the children of SOCARE. It’s not surprising then to find out that his 14 year-old granddaughter who lives in Sydney won a prize for her essay on her grandfather. Though he rarely gets to spend time with her, he has no regrets: “My family understands. They know the children of SOCARE need me more than they do.”

Source : Harmony India

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