During our visit to Mumbai, we were also able to visit the Children’s Home in Umerkhadi, Dongri. The home at Dongri is a children’s home and observation home; meaning that it houses both children in conflict with law and in need of care and protection. One of the biggest observation homes in Asia, the Umerkhadi home currently houses about 230 children in need of care and protection; 150 boys and 80 girls; and about 60 children in conflict in law; about 3-4 of which are girls. Since this is an observation home, this means that all the children in conflict with law that are here are under trial.
In talks with Sachi Maniar
The Umerkhadi home also houses 3 external NGO offices; Ashiyana foundation, Prayas foundation and Resource Cell for Juvenile Justice. We were able to meet the founder of Ashiyana, Sachi Maniar, and get her opinions and ideas on the system. Sachi has been a very active member of the juvenile reforms landscape in recent years and is working extensively in Maharashtra, Gujarat and many other states.
The NGO, Ashiyana foundation helps to give the children emotional counselling, through up and coming methods such as restorative circles. According to her, most children there have come from conditions which have normalised many unnatural things for them. For instance, many of them have beaten up or have seen fights and murders on a daily basis, thus when confronted with a similar situation, they react in the only way they know, violently. It is, thus, very important to give them socio-emotional training, which they have not recieved and also give them positive memories to look back on, as these memories are what keeps us strong in times of adversity.
Ashiyana has conducted many such positive events, such as teacher’s day celebrations and performing art activities, which reinforce the childrens’ trust in society and make them believe that the authorities also trust them and expect good out of them. The aim is to prevent re-offending through positive reinforcement.
She further explained to us how Ashiyana works with the children in conflict with law by dividing them into groups based on risk rather than severity of crime. This means that if a child committed a petty crime, but it is due to a behavioural problem, and he shoes no willingness to change his habits, he needs to be worked with more intensely rather than a child who has committed a heinous crime in a rash situation, and shows willingness to change. This is a radically different approach from what the administrative systems follow.
In the restorative circles, the children are taught how to recognise, label and express their feelings in a controlled way such that that they will not offend or hurt any other members of society. They have also been working to provide extended support to children who have left the home and are trying to get vocational training or some kind of work.
Visiting the Home
After interviewing Sachi, we proceeded to see the other areas of the home. In the boys’ section, the Children in Conflict with Law are at all times kept separate from the Children in Need of Care and Protection, so as to avoid altercations and influence. They follow a set schedule throughout the day and go about their daily activities of praying, meditation, meals, vocational training and recreational time. When a child is admitted to the home, he spends 15-20 days in orientation, during which, the instructors try to gauge his interests and devise a vocational plan for him. The vocational activities available at Umerkhadi are; Tailoring, Mobile and Computer Repairing, Electrician training and Carpentery.
In the girls’ section, however, the juveniles and those in need of protection are kept together as there are only 3-4 juvenile delinquents. The girls go through a similar orientation and training procedure, but they have added options of Fashion Design and Beauty Parlor training as a part of vocational training. When we went, Navatarti celebrations were being held in full force, with all the girls participating in prayers, singing and garba. We also found out that Ganpati had been celebrated a few weeks back in the boys’ section.
To accumulate research information, we conducted conducted the same activities in this home as well, the only difference being the two boys in our group conducted them with the boys’ section and the two girls conducted them in the girls’ section. This was not only to save time and reach out to maximum students, but also because we realised that many of the girls were extremely uncomfortable around boys, and the girls’ section did not even have male staff.
Contrary to the past few homes, we faced more difficulty conducting the activities in this home, which was mostly because of the sheer number of children that we had to deal with. We realised that to conduct any meaningful activity, we would first need to built a good rapport with the children.
In the girls’ section, we noticed quite a few differences from the boys;
- Girls were more interested in drawing and readily started when we asked them to draw each other. They also drew more detailed and intricate sketches rich with patterns and information.
- A few girls claimed to enjoy sports and physical activities, but a majority of girls enjoyed performing arts; like singing and dancing; and creative activities; such as border making, drawing or hairstyling.
- The girls were open and eager to learn any activity that we could teach them and the activity that got most enthusiasm from almost all the girls was jewellery making and zari making.
In the boys section it was a completely different story .
- The boys had a herd mentality, they often ended up copying the given tasks.
- There was evident groupism, there were juveniles who were completely dominating kids who were from other parts of the society.
- The language barrier was exploited by the students and made fun of each other.
- The juveniles were keen on learning “cool” things, like bike riding and tattoo artist.
- But the boys were enthusiastic about interacting and participating in the workshop.