I met Savitri at this park near my home. I go there every Sunday with my younger daughter, Amu. We spend an hour there gathering pine cones, drawing in the sand, or sit on the seahorse (that’s how Amu refers to the seesaw), while my older child attends a dance class nearby.
Savitri had come there with her two younger brothers. They are street kids who live near the park. Kids with no fixed address, who go where their parents take them. I asked her if she went to school, because Mumbai has a number of NGOs which look after street kids, clothe and educate them. Savitri answered no. Could be because she and her parents moved often.
There are over 200,000 kids like Savitri living on Mumbai’s streets. Some of them children of migrants who come here looking for jobs. Others who have been abandoned or have run away from their homes. You find them begging at traffic signals and outside hotels, some caring for younger siblings while their parents are out looking for work.
There are many who find their ways to the numerous shelter homes in the city, run by NGOs which do a decent job of ensuring they stay away from crime, get some basic education and a chance in life.
The sad part is that there are just not enough homes for street girls. “Too much of a responsibility”, one NGO worker said. ‘If something goes wrong there are too many questions asked.”
So most girls like Savitri end up going back to the streets in the evening. Where they are preyed upon. One girl told me how in the night, cars would stop by while they were sleeping on the roadside, and some girls would be forced in and taken away. They would be dropped back after a few days.
Surely it can’t be so difficult to ensure a safe haven for girls. We celebrate women achievers but when you see girls like Savitri out on the streets every day, that glow dims a fair bit