UTTAR PRADESH: His chance encounter with a group of young child beggars gave birth to a movement in Varanasi that has reunited over 760 such children with their families. The man behind ‘Mission Muskan’ is Varanasi Chief Development Officer (CDO) Himanshu Nagpal, 27, a 2019-batch IAS officer.
Posted as CDO, Varanasi, in 2022, Nagpal would often see young children begging at thoroughfares, the ghats & the railway station, around temples and under flyovers. One day, as part of the campaign to rehabilitate beggars, Nagpal stopped and struck up a chat with a few of them to know what forced them into begging. He realised that most of these children were not from the city. They were either lost or abandoned by their families during a visit to the city or landed in Varanasi after leaving their homes and wandered about.
“Thousands of people visit the city every day. Children coming along with their families sometimes get lost, and turn to begging to survive. Such children could be found at railway stations, temples, and ghats. Some of these children have been here for as long as five years,” Nagpal says.
These children come from states like West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and even Nepal. Nagpal, who lost his father and brother when he was still doing his graduation in Delhi, vowed to ensure that these kids return to their families.
Calling it a part of his duty, Nagpal says he has chalked out a plan alongside the campaign to rehabilitate children in beggary and constituted a dozen teams comprising 60 employees drawn from various departments such as child development, the police, social welfare department. He tasked them with locating the families of these children and reuniting them.
The first part of the task was to identify vagrant children around the railway station, bus stops, flyovers, ghats, temples, etc. The teams also visited various shelter homes across Varanasi where such children in the age group of 2 to 18 years were put up.
“All these children were identified and counselled by a group of psychologists not only to leave begging but also share details of their places of belonging; their families, background, parents, and hometown,” said Nagpal.
“Many of them were as young as 2-3 years of age, others were ignorant. So, it was difficult to obtain their personal details,” he said.
However, through various modes, with the help of psychologists and the police, the required information was obtained about these children and soon after, their photos were sent to police stations in their hometowns.
Soon, ‘Mission Muskan’ started getting success in rescuing children from vagrancy and reuniting them with their families. So far, 760 children have been reunited with their respective homes, says the Varanasi CDO.
“Sometimes it takes days altogether to extract information from the children. Usually, it takes 5-15 days or more to reunite children with their families. But not all kids are the same. Some are intellectually weak and it takes time to identify their homes as they are not able to communicate effectively.”