Twelve-year-old Amir (name changed) has been allotted platform number 2 as his area of operation. He collects empty water bottles from the platform and sells them after refilling.
A close look reveals that his face and arms bear several cut marks and he is holding a dirty cloth in his hand which, every now and then, he sniffs.
Amir is a whitener-addict. Although whitener is commonly used for stationary purposes, but at Bhopal railway station destitute children use it as an intoxicant.
Not only whitener, nail polish remover, adhesives and even Iodex (muscle pain reliever) are used by these children to get a high.
These 'intoxicants' are easily available at pan shops and general stores around the railway station area. Why a paan shop or a general grocery shop should keep whiteners is anybody's guess.
Sanjeev, 14, is another addict who comes to the platform early in the morning and stays there throughout the day. When HT asked him why he uses whitener, he says that it is easily available and cheap compared to other intoxicants like booze or even ganja.
"There is no problem in getting whitener. We have our favourite pan shops and some other outlets that keep whiteners for our use only," said 12-year-old Amir. He earns Rs. 350 per day but spends a part of it "paying off" policemen in exchange for peace and non-interference in his 'work.' "Still I save Rs 150 to Rs. 200 per day. I have enough to take two to three bottles of whitener everyday," said Amir.
Rajeev Bhargava, secretary of the NGO Bachpan working for destitute children at the railway station area, said that the biggest challenge is that whitener does not fall in the list of prohibited drugs.
"Therefore, no action can be taken against the shopkeepers selling them," he said, adding: "Due to collector's order there was some control over selling of whitener for some time, but now it is back to square one".
The shopkeepers HT spoke to take guard saying that the supply is there simply because there's a demand. "If I stop selling whitener to them, they turn violent, cut their own hands and spill blood. If I won't sell them, someone else would sell them," said the owner of a paan shop.
The railway police, under whose nose this unfortunate affair is going on, tried to absolve itself of any responsibility.
"We do not allow children at platforms. Whenever we find them we send them to child protection homes. There may be some children who travel with the train. As far as selling of whitener and other intoxicants is concerned, that is outside our jurisdiction," said KS Dande, TI (town inspector), railway police.