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The Slumtown Chronicles

Sudipto Das

61-year-old Md. Alamgir is a dreamer with a difference: he dreams not about himself, but about the community he belongs to. For all these years, this man from Darapara has lived with the single-minded devotion of a missionary.

 

Darapara is one of the most wretched slums along the railway tracks of Tiljala, a neighbourhood in Kolkata, in the eastern state of India. More than 70,000 slum dwellers reside below the poverty line. Most of the residents work as daily wage earners in the small-scale leather industry, and two meals a day is what they can at best look forward to. But in this squalid, over-populated slum, Alamgir has single-handedly ensured 90% literacy rate. Now, about 8% of the young slum population – mostly girls –  are graduates, and 15% have received better job opportunities across the country.

 

Alamgir believes that educating a girl is the most important thing to do, since a literate mother will never leave her kid uneducated. He was one of the first few literates in Darapara. After completion of his law degree in 1981, he became a school teacher in a Government-run school in Kolkata, and was quick to realise that literacy could open up a new horizon for the people of his community living in subhuman conditions. Instead of basking in his personal glory, he has been working tirelessly to redeem fellow slum dwellers from the all-enveloping darkness that hardly offers them any respite. He has waged a lone and arduous battle for 25 years to ensure that almost every child, every young boy and girl in the slum, can now sign, read and write.