Dampara’s Mr India begs to feed orphans
Three-year-old Nani Soren is crying inconsolably for his mother, till Kantha Singh, 45, takes him in his lap. Nani’s mother abandoned him after her husband’s death two months ago and fled with another man.Updated: Sep 10, 2009, 01:28 IST
Three-year-old Nani Soren is crying inconsolably for his mother, till Kantha Singh, 45, takes him in his lap.
Nani’s mother abandoned him after her husband’s death two months ago and fled with another man.
Singh, who runs an orphanage in East Singhbhum’s Dampara village, around 200 km north of Ranchi, appears to be inspired by the character Anil Kapoor played in the ’80s blockbuster Mr India.
In the film, Kapoor held violin classes to support his ‘extended family’ of nine children. Singh, the biological father of three, raises 42 orphans from neglected tribal communities by begging.
The former car mechanic’s love for orphans has played havoc with personal life — Singh’s family has severed all ties with him — but he has no regrets. His biggest concern is the welfare of these orphans.
“Reckless alcoholism and the polygamy leave tribal children to fend for themselves. Once orphaned, these children either die prematurely or spend their childhood working as bonded labourers in farmhouses and fields,” he said.
The challenge of any intervention to help orphans in India becomes even more enormous in the absence of official government data, said Enakshi Ganguly, co-director of the Delhi-based HAQ Centre for Child Rights.
According to Pune-based NGO Catalysts for Social Action, there were at least 12.4 million orphans in India in 2006. The last Census in 2001 put the number of child labourers in the country at 12.7 million. Jharkhand’s seven registered orphanages provide shelter to 420 children.
To teach the orphans in a thatched hutment converted into a shelter-cum school, Singh had to shut down his garage on the National Highway 33. Now, he begs and offers shramdaan (free service) in villages, along with his bunch of volunteers, to feed the orphans.
With no permanent income, how does he plan to run the orphanage? “I don’t feel any humiliation begging for alms as I am carrying out God’s work,” he said.
Neekanth Singh, 6, has never seen his parents. After he has recited a rhyme, when HT asked him his father’s name, he promptly said: “My father’s name is Kantha Singh.”
Mamoni Singh, 7, and Sonamoni, 8, also refer to Singh as ‘papa.’
As long as he is alive, Singh says the children won’t sleep on an empty stomach.
But sometimes, the meagre donations are not sufficient. “At times, we just have salt and rice to eat. Some day, I hope, these children get an education and go on to become government babus.”