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SocareInd: Making a fresh start

“I give these children what their parents cannot – freedom” says Mani, who runs a home for the children of life-convicts.

“Meet Dayasree. Her original name was Thayamma. She hated it. She came home from school one day asking me to change her name as the school couldn’t accept it! Look at the cheek” laughed Mr. Mani, as a very sheepish Dayasree greeted us and quickly ran away to join her mates. “Uncle, she is always washing her clothes, please advise her”, a 13 year old comes in to complain, only to be sent out with a smile. A few girls merrily ride in and out on their bicycles, cheering wildly, much to the annoyance of caretaker Raju. The giggly girls try hard to be solemn while Mr. Ravi from the Omkar Foundation teaches them the meaning of “Aum”, the life breath. The entire place vibrates with a huge amount of positive energy, I find it hard to believe that these are children who have witnessed their fathers committing murders and mothers stealing right in front of their eyes. The transformation is the work of SoCareInd – Society for Care of Indigent, a home that gives children of these lifetime prisoners food, shelter, education, abundant love, and a life of hope.

Mani. Pic courtesy: Socare
How did it start? I ask Venkataraghavachari Mani, the very flamboyant and dynamic 70 year old retired bank manager, the life force behind the organization. “I used to pass by the prison on the way to work, and would see spouses and children of life-convicts just hanging around outside. I wanted a better future for these kids. Though I opened my home to them after retirement, Socare is the culmination of over 30 years of thoughts and ideas before that” says the man who quotes the deep philosophies of Karl Marx and Plato one moment and has you in splits the other with a steady stream of jokes

Does the home always see success stories? “Not all. We had a girl who came here because her father murdered her mother and went to jail. A few years later she ran away with our driver!” he thunders. The home has had only 2-3 such cases over the last 10 years though. “Some of these boys occasionally steal, they have seen only that all their lives. We give them second chances, much like the ‘non-performers’ of the Indian team” jokes Mr. Mani.

Presently, they are about 140 children, girls in the RajajiNagar home and boys in Laggere. Parents are encouraged to visit their children in SoCare, there is even a guest room in the premises for them. Quarterly visits to prisons are also arranged. “We are only caretakers, we can never replace parents and we understand that”, says Mr Mani, sounding matter-of-fact. His eyes however give away the immense attachment and love he has for his children.

SoCareInd – Society for Care of Indigent, gives children of lifetime prisoners food, shelter, education, abundant love, and a life of hope.
As a result of Mani’s persistent efforts, these children have been admitted to mainstream schools and are doing well. “The children need some extra help to overcome their traumatic pasts and rise to the demands of mainstream education. We have about 11 volunteers coming in to tutor the kids after school.” The desire to excel is not limited to academics. The girls learn Bharatnatyam. They regularly get called to recite Shlokas in the neighbourhood temples. It gives me goose pimples to listen to their soulful recitation of the Vishnu Sahasranamam! What about non-Hindus? “Yes, we have about 35 Christians and some Muslims as well. They are free to follow their religion here. It is however essential for them to learn values through some form. I keep giving talks.” declares Mani. The deep affection the children have for their “Uncle” Mani is evident from the way they hang on to every word he says and compete fiercely to give him a bear hug at the end of each talk.

How does he find these children? “I keep in touch with the Superintendents of prisons all over India. We get many children from Gulbarga, a district famous for honour killings; Mizoram and Manipur, areas known for their social problems.”

The home is run by a bunch of committed senior citizens. Funding is mainly through donations from well-wishers, sales of calendars and greeting cards. Mani worries constantly about the future of SoCare. “I believe a sign over Plato’s gate read ‘Only lovers of geometry and music allowed.’ Similarly, I am particular about who comes here to help, I need people with open minds. Now that we have tied up with Sharada Peetam – a Hindu religious Mutt, I can rest assured that things will keep going even after us” he says wistfully. The only other time that this very energetic man appeared frail and old was when talked about his wife who had recently passed away. She had been a pillar of strength for the organization, taking care of the children like her own.

We quickly move on to talk about his children, most of them settled abroad. “They help me from time to time. Recently at a talk in Sydney University, when my daughter introduced me she said ‘Unnecessary’ is one of the first words we learnt as kids.” True to that belief, all his pension has gone into SoCare, even the home we are sitting in has been pledged to the organization. His biggest contribution has however been the last 10 years, living and breathing Socare, demonstrating what these kids could become given a chance. He stands very tall in front of my eyes I tell him as I leave. “That’s because I stand on top of all my well-wishers and helpers” he chuckles in his trademark way. May there be ‘Mani’ more to bring hope to hundreds of young lives imprisoned by fate.

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