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Is it exploitation? A business opportunity? Both? You won't find any "slumdog millionaires" in this dark corner of India.
NEW DELHI — On a random walk through Delhi’s bustling railway station, the gritty street kids are easy to miss: With forlorn looks, they mingle and scamper about, covertly snagging food from garbage cans and hustling for a few rupees at entryways.
Slumdog millionaires? Not here.
Though the hit movie has Oscar buzz and features the improbable rags-to-riches story of a kid’s rise from a Mumbai slum, life on the streets in Delhi betrays little sign of Hollywood glitz.
For those who want a closer look, a nonprofit kids’ charity called the Salaam Baalak Trust offers visitors to this sprawling capital city something quite unique in the annals of holiday excursions: a slum tour of the area around the station where upwards of 2,000 street kids dwell.
The 2-hour walks are chaperoned by former street kids themselves, who know the routes and the survival methods all too well.
The “city tours,” as they’re called, started in 2006, but the organization itself was founded in 1988 by celebrated filmmaker Mira Nair, director of “Salaam Bombay,” a film about street life in India.
In 2005, the organization even gave former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair an eye-opening tour of the grounds and introduced him to some of the kids.
Salaam uses the revenues from the tour — which costs about $4 — to help fund basic medical care and schooling projects for the kids.
There are no official statistics about the number of street children living in India, but rough estimates put the figure at around 11 million. There are about 100,000 street children living in Delhi.
Most kids survive by shining shoes or hawking trinkets and magazines. Some are coerced into joining organized gangs that earn money by begging on Delhi streets.
The stories of how these wayward children got here are varied: some ran away from abusive homes, others are orphans, and some come from families that can’t afford to care for them.
Somehow, by train, by foot or by stowing away on trucks, many end up here, living ragtag lives in the midst of India’s otherwise booming economy.
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