To help children in Delhi’s slums escape a life of crime and labour, police constable Than Singh runs Than Singh ki Pathshala, a free school where he teaches more than 80 children to help them further enrol in government schools.
When his parents would leave home for work, 10-year-old Ajay Ahirwal would accompany them to tourist spots across Delhi, where his father worked as a labourer. He, too, would engage in menial work, and his education remained ignored. Three years ago, however, things began to change.
In fluent English, he tells his name to The Better India. “Ma’am ji, earlier I had never gone to school, but now I study in class 5. I study Social Science, Hindi, Maths, and English. Of all subjects, I like Social Science the most and I aspire to become a Police officer like uncle ji, and I will teach children like he does,” says Ajay, whose father works as a labourer at tourist spots.
Like Ajay, nearly 80 children from slum areas in Delhi, who had earlier been involved in odd jobs like rag picking, are able to study. This is thanks to the efforts of constable Than Singh.
How Than Singh ki Pathshala was born
Born in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur, Than Singh himself was raised with two siblings in the slums of Delhi. While his father would iron clothes for a living, he would sell corn on the street as a child. But he never underestimated the importance of studies, he says.
“I would study at a school for a fee of Rs 3. My father wanted to become a police officer, but he could not. I wanted to fulfill his dream. I’d juggle work and studies. In 2009, after two attempts, I cleared the examination for Delhi Police constable and got my posting in 2010,” the 34-year-old tells The Better India.
Memories of his childhood rushed back to him in 2013, when he saw a few children selling plastic bottles on streets and picking up rags near Red Fort. “Many tourists would come and click their photos, mocking their circumstance, I hated to see that. These children were doing odd jobs for Rs 50 because their parents did not have enough resources to take care of them.”
“Also, I found these children had started eating gutka (betel nut). There are many people who influence children to walk the wrong path, but very few come forward to help them. I wanted to look for options so that these children could do what they are meant to do at this age – study,” he says.
While finding solutions, the constable understood that it was difficult to enroll these children to schools. “If you go to school for admission of a 12-year-old, ideally they should get admission in either Class 6 or 7. And for that, they should at least know how to read a book or at least the alphabet. But most of these children had never seen a school, and it was not possible for them to enrol in one,” he adds.
So two years later, he started a one-of-its-kind school known as Than Singh Ki Pathshala to teach underprivileged children for free.
“I volunteered to teach these kids so that they are able to come a little par to their peers. For this, I started meeting the parents. Police are the only segment that go to people irrespective of their socio-economic status and get to understand their problems. After meeting their parents, I convinced them to not worry about kids and send them to our pathshala,” he says.
“My main objective to teach these children was to prevent them from committing crimes in future and instil good behaviour among them,” he adds.
Class of 80
Starting with four children in 2015, today Than Singh teaches more than 80 children from Raj Ghat, Vijay Ghat, Shantivan, Red Fort, Lohe-wala-pul (Old Yamuna Bridge).
Every day, children in the age group of 3 to 15 years flock to Sai baba temple located at Red Fort parking area, where Than Singh and his group of volunteers wait for them. Many battery rickshaw owners have volunteered to take these kids from their homes to the pathshala, he informs.
The classes begin at 3 and conclude at 5:30 pm, and the school opens all days of the week, including Sunday. The school functions through donations from various stakeholders and with the help of 50 volunteers. “We get everything through donations – from food, uniforms, books. We do not take money,” he says.
Last year, with the help of DCP Sagar Khalsi, Than Singh was able to enrol nearly 70 kids in the government-run schools. “Although these children have started going to school, they come to us to clear their basics so that they can perform better at school and not feel less than their peers. Ten of my children have topped in the school,” he says, beaming with pride.
“I want to give these children a good atmosphere because their parents go to work and there is a chance that they could wander on streets. This is why we continue to teach them after school. Also, when other children got to know that they can get admission after studying with us, more and more kids started coming,” he adds.
Talking about managing work alongside teaching kids, he says, “There are no fixed working hours for a constable. We work for 24 hours. But if you have to do something, then you have to strive for it. Since my posting and pathshala are at the same place, I am able to manage both work,” he says.
“There is no other peace than working for these children. I could be the reason towards bringing a change in their lives with just a little support. What could have been better than this for me?” he asks.
Edited by Divya Sethu