PUDUCHERRY: In the heart of bustling cities, we come across hundreds of homeless people every day. Though you see them, they are always invisible. You barely get to hear them as their voices are drowned out by the buzz of urban life. C Anumuthu was one among them. Born into poverty, he was forced into child labour after his father died when he was seven.
“I remember working as a daily wager with my mother. I earned Rs 4 a day and my mother, Rs 6. With that amount, we had to feed our family of four and there have been instances where we have starved due to no work too. One summer when both my mother and I did not have work, I used to even go to the nearby field and steal groundnuts to reduce our starvation,” says Anumuthu.
“I was enrolled into school, but I couldn’t attend classes due to financial issues at home. The only time I went to school was to get a free uniform, shoes, and books provided by the government. However, life changed at the age of 11 when a kind-hearted priest, Rev Joe Arimpoor enrolled me into a boarding school in Tirupathur where I completed my schooling.
Later, I moved to Hyderabad to do a course in ITI in electrical stream. As I was interested in multimedia, I also studied that in a college in Tiruchy and became a professional photographer/videographer using a camera given to me by Rev Arimpoor. However, my biggest desire was to help those in need and make sure that no one would have to live a life like I did,” he reminisces.
It was a strong desire within him to help ease the suffering of others. To make them visible and heard, C Anumuthu started his NGO, Snehan. In 2008, Snehan was established to uplift homeless people in Puducherry and it generated income by selling cotton products and partnerships with educational institutions, Snehan not only supported destitute people, but also sustains itself financially.
Though running Snehan was never easy, Anumuthu dedicated his life to providing dignity, care, and livelihood opportunities to the homeless. Through Snehan, he offers jobs, medical attention, food, and clothing, striving to restore the dignity of those marginalised by society.
Ravi Kumar, a 67-year-old driver who was found on the brink of death by Anumuthu and his team, was rushed to JIPMER hospital and was treated there for eight days and was later shifted home and taken care by a caretaker. Similarly, Sunder is a 55-year-old autorickshaw driver, who lost an eye and four fingers in a tragic accident leaving him homeless. Snehan arranged money for his eye operation and now six months later, he runs his own shop selling bags and earning up to `300 daily. While he still lives on the street, Sundar no longer begs or is starving.
Anumuthu’s outreach extends beyond immediate relief, encompassing skill training and employment opportunities at tea stalls, hotels and shops. Cycles were also provided for those who needed it. His vision for Snehan village reflects a deep-rooted desire to create a supportive community where the homeless are accepted, empowered, and valued to lead a fulfilling life.
Despite the challenges posed by addiction and resistance to help, Anumuthu remains steadfast in his mission to make a difference.
Not just men, even women are rehabilitated here. Shanthi, a 27-year-old mother of three, who used to live with her drunken husband, was given tailoring classes and now earns a decent salary of `12,000 and lives independently. At present six such women have been working in the NGOs tailoring unit along with four volunteers.
Anumuthu said, “My vision is to set up Snehan village, with a culture where deprived homeless people are accepted, valued, loved, and live in harmony. Where they can rear animals, take up poultry farming, grow vegetables, fruits, and flowers to stay occupied and make a decent income.”
(Names have been changed to conceal identities)
(Edited by Ashyl Elizabath Paul)