The Sadak Chaap Mela is a fun fair for street boys . In a tradition we began in 1989, every two to three years there such a mela which aims at getting 3000-5000 boys from all over the city and other cities together for 5-6 days.
Street children by and large know that there are many like themselves, these kinds of gatherings create a collective identity for in an environment where they have a lot of fun living eating and having fun together .
What Happens at a Mela: They cook together, watch lots of film on video , have some cultural event every evening and invite a lot of the bollywood wallas who basically are the highlight of these melas.
Melas are also used to help the street children build bridges with others in society which especially in cities tend to ignore the presence of such phenomenon such as street children . In an atmosphere of fun and joy, large numbers of children together.
It is conducive to sharing who they are and what their lives are with the city and its people and its institutions like the police, municipality and the state. The first Mela was held in 1989 and since then every Mela has had a theme and has been used strategically to open up the space with relevant government departments to negotiate for resources for the street child. In doing that we have gradually sensitised them on the characteristics of the street child , what make them different from the a child living on the pavement with his /her family a slum child a hotel boy or a child living on the construction site with the family.
The Negotiations at the Mela:
The melas have been a tool for mobilising street children around issues that are important to them. E.g. we have invited the city police and the railway police to address issues related to security and law and order which directly affects the child .
Through a long dialogue with the municipal authorities we were able to get the permission for Night Shelters , The civil supplies department agreed to give group ration cards to groups of street children . The traffic and municipal commissioner were engaged so that the boys could get to concessions to be able to go to driving school .
The objective of all these negotiations is to first of all look at the street child as an asset to the city and not a liability who needs to be rehabilitated SPARC's role is to translate their aspirations to bureaucrats and citizen groups. And create spaces for dialogue, experimentation, and opening up of possible linkages between these children and society.
1. A communication network to maintain contact in the future.
The single most significant outcome was that nobody wanted to leave! For the children it was a taste of childhood they had left behind. The organisations and the volunteers knew that there was no immediate solution to offer to children who spoke of police harassment and the problems of staying on the street. Yet there was a bonding between everyone who was there. No one wanted to lose touch with each other in the future.
As a result, discussions focused on how to set up a communication process which would ensure that children could keep in touch with each other and the organisations which worked with them. The discussions also attempted to focus on the main problems that the children felt required immediate resolution.
2. New mechanisms to create a legitimate identity for children.
The children demanded a legitimacy for their existence.
It almost seemed as though they were being punished for being on their own in the city. They were harassed by the police for sleeping on the pavements or elsewhere, they were rounded up as suspects. It almost seemed as vulnerable because no one took their side in times of crisis. Since most of the children had no roots, no legitimate identity, they could neither turn to anyone for help nor could anyone who wished to help them come to their assistance. This would be resolved in the form of identity cards issued to children. With an address and telephone number to contact in emergency.
3. Developing leadership amongst the street children themselves.
The children were quick to acknowledge that even if there were many organisation like "the shelter" all the children living on the street could not be helped. Given that they did not want residential institutions, they would have to develop their own collective capabilities to find long-term solutions and deal with immediate problems and crises. This required that the children form a strong collective force within each locality. A wise and strong collective leadership must make this happen. The children decided to nominate three children from all the areas in which they lived. These nominated children would meet every month with volunteers from all four organisations. During these meetings there has been leadership training, the exchange of information and discussions about important issues. This group has also take up the needs of children who wish to go home, follow a training course or experiment with a new skill. The children have increased the strength of their association by contacting children from other areas. Once their initial training was complete, they would seek meetings with the police, state government officials and other administrators. Three or four times a year, they would host further melas. These they would organise themselves and more children would be invited to join. The children of each area would meet once a month with some members of the organisations supporting this research. These people would assist the children nominated to act as leaders and continue the educational process.