Calcutta's warriors against poverty
Calcutta is well known for the
poverty to be found on it's streets, but seeing it for real can
still come as a shock to visitors to the city. We certainly don't
wish to discourage you from travelling to Calcutta, on the contrary
it's important that visitors do go there, the tourist industry is
a vital part of the economy, but it is worth knowing what might
be in store. Journalist Rodney Appleyard
and photographer Dan Thory report
on their own experiences.
We were surprised by Calcutta's stunning buildings,
vibrant atmosphere, world class entertainment facilities and the
kindness of people in the streets, bars and restaurants but
you cannot turn a blind eye to the desperation which also exists
in this city.
We talked to a nurse at Mother Teresa's hospice,
and to the Editor of Calcutta's Salvation Army magazine, to find
out how bad the problem of poverty really is and what is being done
on a local and national scale to create solutions.
Some families live, sleep, eat and wash on the streets.
Young children cry and roam around naked in the middle of the most
popular tourist areas. You can be oblivious to the problems whilst
wandering around the market on a Saturday afternoon, admiring the
beautiful colours in hand-made Indian garments, until you notice
a person without limbs screaming in pain on the pavement.
Major J. Samraj, the Editor of the Salvation Army
newsletter, told us about the biggest problems facing Calcutta at
Major J. Samraj: "The most difficult problem we are
facing at the moment is with the street children. A lot of parents
cannot afford their children's basic needs like food, and everything
else, so they just don't bother and just leave them alone on the
streets. This is a new problem which we are not used to, so we
are facing a new challenge in this area."
I couldn't believe it when, after my second day, I passed a child
which must have been just under a year old, naked and crying on
the pavements of Sudder Street. Surely this child could not be abandoned?
But he probably was. Why does Calcutta face these problems?
Major J. Samraj: "The problem is because Calcutta
is a famous city. People from the different states come here to
work, as truckers, drivers... They take the work away from the
people who already live here, so the local people end up with
less opportunity to get jobs. We must honour Mother Teresa and
appreciate her contribution to the city, which made her get a
It's estimated that the population of India will overtake that
of China by 2020. Another frightening statistic is that 1 billion
people currently live in India, and 20 million of these people are
already infected by Aids. Calcutta suffers more from these problems
than other Indian cities because the population is spiralling out
of the control. Is there any hope for Calcutta?
J. Samraj: "Calcutta has a population of 20 million,
which is not ordinary. 150 years ago, the British people came
and established so many things, such as the railways, but they
couldn't achieve everything, so they left.
The city needs hygiene strategies, counselling,
rehabilitation and traffic control. The traffic has been the same
since the British were here 150 years ago...
...but the people of Calcutta are very
good, kind and co-operative people. There is not any terrorism
or hypocrisy. A millionaire can live side by side with an outsider
from the city and a poor local person who can't get a job. They
can accept each other and see each other as equals in their hearts."
You have to admire the optimism of the people who work at the Salvation
Army in Calcutta and at Mother Teresa's hospice. Despite the desperation
they see around them, they will never give up on trying to help
the sick and suffering. The Salvation Army gives food to 250 needy
people every day and provides home, food and education to 190 orphans.
In addition, they have social services and accommodation for 20
blind people and about 50 old people.
Mother Teresa's hospice provides nurses, and religious support
for people dying of any disease. Both organisations are grateful
for the help provided by British, American, Australian, Canadian
and European volunteers. When Mother Teresa opened her hospice,
she looked after prostitutes and helped rehabilitate them back into
society. She also persuaded the courts to create an act that allowed
her to take custody of homeless children and find suitable people
to adopt them. It is a huge credit to her legacy that her revolutionary
work is still practised today.
Text © Rodney Appleyard, photographs
© Dan Thory, 2002
Would you like to help? Please contact these organisations
if you think you can help them fight poverty in any way.
Major J. Samraj, Salvation Army: e-mail: India_Communiactions/IND/SArmy@SAHUB
Mother Teresa's Hospice: Mother House, 54A AJC Bose
Road (033/249 7115)
For more general information on the Salvation
Army and the ability to donate on-line.
For more information on Mother
Teresa including contact addresses and information
about acting as a volunteer.