He quit his job to build shelters for the homeless
Shashank Shukla, currently pursuing second year of the Teach for India (TFI) programme has helped set up five homeless adult shelters across Delhi in the last few months and is also running three existing residential homes for children.
Recently, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council recommended with much a Rs 4,250 crore programme to provide shelters and other amenities to the homeless in India's cities.
A target of 6,800 permanent shelters has been set with much fanfare by the government for some three lakh homeless, covering 15 percent of the estimated urban Indian population living out in the open.
Deep in the alleys of winter-struck New Delhi, where homeless people gather around little bonfires at night to keep themselves warm, a young MBA graduate who is now in the second year of the Teach for India (TFI) programme has also been working on the same mission but without any glorious announcements.
Shashank Shukla has helped set up five homeless adult shelters across Delhi in the last few months and is also running three existing residential homes for children.
Incidentally, Shashank has also been also assisting the National Advisory Council working group on Urban Poverty.
In the second year of TFI, Shashank arranged a transfer to a school that taught homeless children with little or no education — the first such effort by any TFI fellow.
Himself the father of a three-year-old, Shashank felt that he could sense the agony of other children, especially those without any roof over their heads.
"There are an estimated 20 million children living on the streets of India. I believe that if only our policies catered to them that the government programmes will show results on the ground."
Image: Shashank Shukla
He felt a desire to come back home and do something for children here
But Shashank had initially planned for something else in life.
"I grew up dreaming that one day I will fight for my country and right after high school, I cleared the National Defence Academy entrance exam, securing an all-India rank of 7 among 1.8 lakh applicants."
However, fate had other designs and just three months before receiving his wings, he had to leave the armed forces because of a service injury.
"This completely shattered me. I studied in my hospital bed and secured admission to TA Pai Management Institute (TAPMI), Manipal. Post MBA, like all my batch mates, I secured a corporate job and grew rapidly in my career. His job at that time was based in the US and fetched him nearly $100,000 as basic salary with additional sales incentives."
But something seemed amiss to him in the US and Shashank felt a desire to come back home and do something for children here.
During his MBA days, Shashank had visited his native state Uttar Pradesh and that changed his life altogether. His father-in-law proposed that he would donate his ancestral land to build a graduate college in a backward district of Uttar Pradesh where no institution of higher learning existed.
So Shashank and his wife got the college built and called it Gurukul. The school has some 500 plus students, mainly poor.
This 'education' kick refused to leave him and Shashank left the US to come back to India and do something for the homeless and uneducated. On his return, he enrolled into the TFI programme.
"Here, I learned a lot about teaching as a leadership framework. I also got the opportunity to work with leaders like Anu Aaga who is a member of the National Advisory Council -- the Sonia Gandhi-led advisory body to the government -- on issues regarding 'Right to Education' and other legislations like Unique Identification, Right to Food and Communal Harmony bill."
"This is where I realised the value of involving practitioners who have worked at the grassroots level in framing policies at the national level," Shashank told.
Image: Image for representation purpose only
Photographs: Seema Pant
He wants to ensure that by 2020 every child and the homeless in India has a home to go
The young man's vision for his post-TFI fellowship work became further refined during an internship in the summer of 2011, where he interned with the Supreme Court commissioner's office (Harsh Mander) on issues of urban homelessness, with a focus on homeless children and ways to include them under the 'Right to Education' act.
"This exercise made me aware of the 'last child', who in my mind is a destitute, orphan child and is the most needy, yet has been pushed to being the last in line for entitlements and rights as he has no strength, no voice and no representation," Shashank explains.
As part of his internship study, Shashank had to prepare a report on the situation of the homeless.
Assisted by advocacy from people like Mander, the report prompted the Supreme Court to pass orders to all state governments to plan for the homeless in the 12th five year plan and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and recognise residential homes for the homeless children as residential schools for the benefit of the neediest children.
This winter, Shashank became closely involved with shelters for the homeless. His five shelters include two adult women shelters, two adult men shelters and one shelter for drug addicts, a first of its kind in Delhi.
Though the homes are run by Harsh Mander's organisation Aman Biradari, Shashank is in-charge of the operations. At the moment, Shashank and his group are trying to link these shelters to a community kitchen model. He is also working on setting up models for the destitute to raise themselves out of homelessness by earning a livelihood.
Shashank wants to continue on the same path even after his TFI fellowship ends.
He wants to make sure that by 2020 every child and the homeless in India actually has a home to go to when the day is done and a pillow to rest their head on.
Image: Image for representation purpose only
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh