Amid the small and shabby houses of Nangli Razapur, a rural and congested locality near Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station, one house stands out. Its bright walls have been painted by children and adorned with handmade posters. But, what excites passersby the most is the Bollywood music coming from here in the silent afternoon hours.
As 1pm nears, 15 kids aged between 10 and 14 line up inside one of the rooms and wait for their dance teacher. Short and frail, 12-year-old Ajay (name changed) is impatient for the class to start. He picks up the remote and turns on the stereo. And, when Ravi, the teacher, arrives, the kids begin practising enthusiastically on ‘Dhoom Machale Dhoom,’ with Ajay in the lead.
Ajay ran away from his home in Old Delhi at 10 and ended up on the streets, picking garbage and begging at the railway station. Soon after, he befriended children who were addicted to drugs. He initially started using bidi, gutkha and alcohol, but later ended up with more powerful substances.
The dance classes have been operating here for the past seven years. Run by NGOs Chetna and iPartner India, the classes focus on street children addicted to drugs. Dance is used as a therapy to engage children and divert their attention from drugs.
“The children have shown a remarkable improvement. Currently, three girls and more than 12 boys attend regularly. We encourage them to dance and learn new steps every day so that they do not go back to their dark lives,” said Ravi, 23.
Substance use at such an early age led to many behavioural problems in Ajay. This was two years ago, until he was rescued. A dance enthusiast and a die-hard fan of Salman Khan, Ajay said, “When a volunteer approached me I was scared and tried to run away. But she explained how my life was being ruined due to substance abuse. She offered help in getting rid of my addiction. So I agreed and came here. I have neither gone back to the platforms since then nor used drugs.”
Ajay and his friends love to dance and haven’t skipped a single class. “I love coming here as I get to dance on my favourite songs by Yo Yo Honey Singh. Our teacher lets us dance as much as we want,” he says.
Like Ajay, Ali (name changed) was rescued by the NGO members and encouraged to attend the dance classes. Ali, 14, lives in a slum in Sarai Kale Khan. Nearly three years ago, he ran away from his home and landed up at the railway station. “After my father’s death, things were bad at home. I couldn’t attend school. I was frustrated with the poverty and decided to escape from this harsh life. I didn’t know where to go and started following other homeless children and did what they would do — pick garbage. I came in contact with drugs during this time,” he said.
Ali came clean a year ago and has started living in his home once again. He said, “At first I was hesitant. But then I saw many children of my age. They were dancing on ‘Dil hai chota sa ... choti si aasha’. Without thinking much, I joined them. I would dance for a major part of the day. For the first time in my life I was doing something that I really liked. While I danced, I forgot all about my addiction.”
Dancing has improved their lives. Today, they put all their energy into learning new steps and helping friends overcome their addiction. The children also work on dance dramas here. They perform street plays, do flash mobs and perform on stage to create awareness on child marriage, drug abuse and violence. Recently, they went all around Sarai Kale Khan, stopped at different locations and performed a play based on child trafficking.
The children are also taught basic English and Math here. Activities like singing, drawing and painting are organised frequently. Many of them are housed in a nearby shelter run by an NGO. A majority of them have quit rag-picking and begging, but there are still some who go back to their street lives at night.
However, there are challenges. “Some children go back to picking garbage or begging after attending the classes. For two-thirds of a day, they live with substance users, picking rags and selling items to passengers,” said Ravi.
He also blamed parents of these children as they pick up the habit from their homes, from parents or elder siblings. He said many times the children show no signs of giving up on their addictions.