Baalak Trust (SBT) City Walk tour, something the staff at SBT had been pushing me to do since my arrival. The tour was based around the area of Paharganj, commonly known as the Hippie Haven of Delhi due to its affordable lodging and close proximity to the New Delhi Railway Station. However, anyone who has spent time in this part of town knows that it is also crowded, dirty, and ridden with street dwellers, often kids. The tours are given by one of the SBT kids that have been “rehabilitated” off the streets. My tour guide was named DevRaj, a nice young man of 18 that speaks impeccable English and is originally from a small village in Nepali Terai; a lowland region just over the border that stretches into the start of the Himalayas.
Over the past two weeks, I have heard so many similar stories to DevRaj’s. His mother died in childbirth with his brother, leaving the remaining siblings alone with an alcoholic and drug-addicted father. Ultimately, the father left DevRaj to the streets. Luckily, he fell into the hands of Salaam Baalak Trust. His story, like a lot of our girls started out tragic but has turned into an opportunity to lead a better life.
The story is tragic and one of just many. And yet, despite the tragedy of it, by the end of the telling DevRaj smiles and says he is now luckier than he would be if he stayed in Nepal for now he has a chance at a better life. As we continue the walk, being shuffled down gullies and into rag pickers colonies, I imagine all of the girls that I have talked to being forced into this life, a life that they did not choose. While the walk was not shocking as such, for one sees these things daily living in India, it was the stories and knowledge I gained that were unique. At the end of the tour, we head back to the SBT main office and DevRaj explains that there are 6 other city walk tour guides. Only one of them is female, Pooja who lives in Arushi Home but who I did not cross paths with. When I ask why there is only one girl, he says that it is only the girls who are over 18 and grew up on these very streets that give tours. He quickly clarifies that “Girls don’t last long on the streets, they are either picked up by Social Workers or Pimps.” The contrast is stark, yet understandable in a city that has some of the worst female violence cases in India. It is so fortunate for the girls who end up at a place like SBT. It is my hope, through this work that enough people can be empowered in the future to help these girls find a better path.