The spirit of Freedom!

Muktangan (literally translated – the free courtyard) works with runaway, lost and abandoned children living on railway platforms and aims to reunite and reintegrate them with their families and communities. Their work happens in close collaboration with the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and the Department of Railways in New Jalpaiguri, Malda, Asansol and Kharagpur railway stations in West Bengal.

Muktangan was envisaged as an open shelter programme for children living in and around railway platforms in collaboration with the RPF and the Railway authorities. It was premised on the conviction that the rehabilitation and reintegration of children on the railway stations was primarily the duty of the State, which in these spaces was represented by the Railway Department including the RPF. At the core of the programme was the drop-in centre cum night shelter provided by the RPF for the children near the station and on Railway property and an acknowledgement of the fact that violence against children or forced institutionalisation by the RPF could not be either desirable or effective. Most of the children were escaping violence and abuse in their families and had either run away or had been abandoned. They came to the railway station on their own and took up work like sweeping trains, selling water bottles, collecting aluminium foils, begging and generally scrounging for food to survive. At the station, they became dependent on substances like solvents and alcohol and also became victims of severe violence and sexual abuse from police, the RPF, the hawkers and vendors and even some older boys and some railway passengers. Muktangan went to the RPF with the idea that children have a right to survival, development, protection and participation and that the need of the hour was to respond to the situation of children as duty-bearers. Forcible evictions or beating children had not and would not solve the problem which arose out of social and economic issues that were difficult to address at the ‘railway station’.

Muktangan not only provided the children with food, shelter, clothing and medical care, but also gave them access to basic education, life skills development and a chance to attend formal schools. All Muktangan Centres presently operate from rooms/halls provided by the Railway Department just outside the railway stations. The Centres have bathing and toilet facilities and food for meals is cooked within the premises. The Open Shelter which is used by the children as a Drop-In Centre also functions as a Night Shelter. Three persons take turns to be regularly present at the Centre all through the day and night, with one of them especially responsible for cooking.

During the day children attend a two-hour Education session that aims to prepare children for admission to formal schools either while staying in the Open Shelter or after they are reunited with their families. Besides, counselling and various art, theatre and dance movement based therapy and life-skills development sessions are conducted at various times of the day.

Muktangan is an initiative by CRY supported project Coalition for Child Rights Protection (CCRP)in West Bengal. CCRP also encourages children from slums, especially those without parental or alternative adult supervision, to access the Muktangan centre for education or mid-day meals. They are also encouraged to ask for medical support whenever they require. Along with single children living on the railways, children from the slums are provided with life skills education and other mental health support including counselling and guidance.

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