150 x 144 cm
oil on canvas
In contrast to the newly rescued boys at Mukti Ashram, the boys at Bal Ashram Rehabilitation Centre in Rajasthan are relaxed, confident, noisy and lively. Intensive counselling and affection has encouraged them out of their shells and they are eager to learn, play, eat and dance.
Ramesh is full of beans and eager for attention. This tiny boy of 9 tells me how he had started school at the age of 5. One day, when he was 7, a fair came
to a nearby village to celebrate Lord Krishna’s birthday. There would be drama, dancing, sweets and many other exciting things. He stole 10 rupees from his father and sneaked off to see. As a punishment his father stopped his schooling and took him to work in a brick kiln. Working from 8am until 9pm he could cast 100 bricks a day.
Ramesh was so malnourished when he was rescued that the BBA activist who found him thought he would die if left any longer. BBA persuaded his father to let him come to Bal Ashram to feed him up, get his strength back and complete non-formal education so he could go back to school in his village. He had only been at Bal Ashram for 5 weeks but already he had grown and started to fill the smallest clothes they could find, which had hung off him in the first weeks of his stay.
The day at Bal Ashram allows for half an hour of free time before school and an hour in the evening. Ramesh is always the first on the climbing frame or grabbing my hand to play with him on the swings. In the early morning cold he sits up high in his warmest jacket, surveying the site or swinging upside down from the monkey bars. At meal times his high-pitched voice can be heard above the chatter and his flamboyant Bollywood moves on the dance floor gain much admiration!
Only the scars left from the clay cutting tools and his tiny stature give away the poverty and harsh conditions of his previous experience.
When I returned a year later Ramesh had completed his rehabilitation and gone home to his village school – a healthier, happier boy with hope for his future.