Making a difference in the lives of convicts’ kids
A unique experiment by Bengaluru based SOCARE Ind for rehabilitation of convicts’ children
The law convicts only the criminals, but the society ‘convicts’ their entire family in different forms. Their innocent children and other family members are forced to live in self deprivation, with loss of human dignity, and in utter poverty and dehumanised conditions. Obviously, such people, if left uncared for, are prone to different criminal activities. Bengaluru based SOCARE Ind (Society’s care for Indigent) took up this challenge in 1999 and so far it has transformed the lives of many such children by providing them ‘parental care’. It is a big contribution not only to the society, but also to the law. Today 168 such children are being taken care by SOCARE, started by a retired RBI employee V Mani by dedicating all his retirement benefits and his house to the noble cause.
Many people pass by the jails on their route every day, but hardly any of them is moved by the plight of the family members of the convicts crying outside the prisons. Anyone who sometimes moved too does not think beyond offering a cup of tea or oral solace. About 30 years back, a person cycled to his work passing by the Central Jail of Bengaluru. The sight of the children and wives of the prisoners waiting outside the gate braving the rain and blazing Sun haunted him all day at work. One day he decided to make a difference—pledged that after retirement he would do something concrete to ease their pain. True to his words, after retirement as assistant general manager from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in 1999, he invested all his savings—about Rs 300,000—to convert his own house into a hostel for the children of the convicts. The person was Venkataragavachari Mani, whose initiative of SOCARE has now made a big difference in the lives of both the convicts and their family members.
Though he passed away on November 1, 2012, his house is full of children whose destinies were once horribly linked with the dark crimes—murders, dacoity and sexual offences—committed by their parents. Many have seen their fathers set their mothers on fire; many others have been mute witness to their mothers poisoning their fathers. In 95 per cent of the cases are said to be involved one parent killing the other over infidelity or as retaliation from oppression. These children have been orphaned even though they have one parent who is alive.
After retirement when most people think of living a peaceful and comfortable life, V Mani started travelling to jails, meeting the authorities across Bellary, Mysore, Gulbarga and Dandupalya prisons to convince the jail officials for helping him in the cause. Mani targeted the children of the convicts serving long sentences in various prisons of Karnataka. After procuring the children he provided them comprehensive care in the form of free food, shelter, clothing, health and education at three separate hostels in Bengaluru and Gulbarga.
It is the result of his dedicated efforts that both boys and girls between the age group of 5 to 20 years staying in the hostels attend English medium schools situated in and around hostel areas. They are encouraged to pursue extra-curricular activities. Majority of the children study well, get ranks and excel in sports, dance, painting and martial arts, etc. Two girls passed their B.Com securing 1st class and joined the most prestigious professional Chartered Accountants course. Some are pursuing Engineering courses. Recently, two boys passed 2nd Pre University Course exams securing Distinction and 1st Class. Today these children are happy, confident and have passion to succeed in life no matter what their background is. They are longing to make a positive difference in the society that shunned them or exploited often forcing to become anti-social elements.
SOCARE has also impacted the lives of the parents of these children. Their expectations that the future of their children should be different from theirs have gone up. They look up to their children’s bright future in the safe hands of SOCARE, which has made a good beginning being the first of its kind initiative in the country. Overwhelmed over the initiative, Sri Sri Mahaswami of Sringeri Sharada Peetam showered his blessings. Similarly, the daily lunch—a nutritious vegetarian meal of sambhar, rasam, vegetables, curd, salad, chapattis and a dessert—is supplied by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Mani’s three children settled abroad also regularly contribute to the cause. Mani’s greatest supporter, however, was his wife Saroji, who passed away in 2008.
The initiative was launched after a prolonged discussion with former DGP (Prisons) L Revannasiddiah. Even today, SOCARE regularly invites jail officials to inspect their premises and spend time with the children. In coming years the SOCARE targets to support at least 1,500 children, as there are 1,500 life-convicts in different jails of the State. It also plans to establish a vocational training centre to train the inmates and other youth in specific vocations. It believes in offering a second chance and encourages the wards to forgive and forget. That is why children are escorted to meet their jailed parents once every three months and parents are allowed to call on once every month. When convicts are let off on parole, they are invited to stay overnight with their children. “We can provide the children with love and compassion, but we can never be a substitute to their parents,” added Smt Asha Narasimhan, joint secretary of SOCARE.
V Mani is no more, but his efforts are really making positive difference in the lives of those innocent people who are punished daily by the society. That is why a good team of dedicated persons is looking after this entire project. Padmashri VR Gowrishankar as chairman, Shri VR Ramesh as president, Shri MM Rao as vice president, Shri Venkatanathan as secretary and many other distinguished people are contributing in different capacities. Shri Reevenasiddaih, IPS (retired Director General of Police, Karnataka) is the advisor.
Generally, many hardened criminals and petty offenders tend to be unrepentant, even justifying their acts saying: after all ‘what has the society done for us, it is full of selfish, unjust people’. But when they see their children receiving so much unconditional and unlimited love and are being transformed for the better, these criminals also tend to soften up and understand that society is not so evil and cruel after all. Ultimately, self-correction sets in. All ultimately reduces their cynicism and instills some hope and positivity in them. This is what V Mani wanted to achieve.
Anyone interested for more details can visit www.socareind.org
Every five seconds, someone, somewhere in the world goes blind. Every minute, one more child goes blind – and 60 per cent of these children die within a year. There are up to 45 million people already blind across the world. Without effective intervention, this figure is set to rise to 76 million by 2020. More than 90 per cent are in the developing world. India suffers a worrisome 12 per cent. Cataract, Diabetic Retina, Glaucoma, Cornea and Refraction problems constitute 90 per cent of blindness. Most importantly, over 80 per cent of this blindness is needless and can be easily prevented or treated.
Another major challenge in this segment of healthcare is identifying the population that needs treatment. Our current system needs expensive diagnostic devices for screening, requiring separate devices for each problem, coupled with the availability of highly skilled technicians and ophthalmologists during screening. This increases the cost of service substantially and hence limits scalability; this has resulted in a grossly under serving the rural market. Only around 7-10 per cent of people at various stages of blindness are screened and treated as of today.
Dr Shyam Vasudeva Rao from Bengaluru decided to crack this problem and after putting 1.5 years of hard work, he and his dynamic group of technocrats at ‘Forus Health’ designed revolutionary device ‘3nethra’ which is world first portable, intelligent, non-invasive, non-mydriatic eye pre-screening headhunt device which is extremely cost effective and can be operated by a minimally trained technician. 3netra can simultaneously detect 5 major and most common ailments—Cataract, Refraction, Diabetic Retina, Glaucoma, Corneal problems.
Using 3nethra, Forus Health aims to increase pre-screening efficiency for eyes related problems in rural India. The initial version of 3netra was aimed at adult and elderly patients but now Dr. Shyam’s team have developed a version with in-build refractometry for screening eye defects in small children. (Abhay Jere)