At 11:30 PM, when the rest of the neighbourhood had retired for the day, four young siblings curled up in one corner of a small room, with their parents involved in a heated argument as usual. It didn’t take the kids long to fall asleep even amidst the screams, curses and physical altercations, as this was nothing new for them. Eldest daughter Latha (name changed) woke up to a stream of something cold touching her face and was traumatised to see her mother lying dead in a pool of blood. The murderer, her own father, was nowhere to be found. The frantic screams of the terrified children pierced through the peaceful night. With police intervention, the fugitive father was soon imprisoned, leaving the children almost orphaned.
Haunted to even step inside their home again and with no relatives ready to take their responsibility, the three girls and a little boy made the nearest temple premises their home for days. An old lady from the village was feeding them, while they had no idea about the future until KR Raja’s Global Network for Equality stepped in as the saviour. Now the four kids are put up in a children’s home in Madurai, Tamil Nadu where they are getting proper care and education.
Started in 2012, Global Network for Equality is the only organisation in India to support children of prisoners, who are perhaps the most overlooked in the society. Founder KR Raja has overcome his own physical limitations to design a beautiful future for these helpless children whose fathers are serving life sentences, mostly on charges of killing their wives.
KR Raja was paralysed at eight months
At eight months of age, Raja contracted a high fever. “My parents were poor agricultural labourers with little medical knowledge. They rushed to the nearest clinic at the wee hours of midnight where the doctor gave me an injection. Within hours, my whole body was paralysed,” Raja shares with Efforts For Good, adding that he found out much later that he was administered a wrong injection.
Much of his childhood was spent in pain and struggle to move his legs, hands and fingers. Physiotherapy helped, but the pain was nearly unbearable. Hailing from a remote village in Tamil Nadu with little access to developed medical accessories, Raja improved his mobility the hard way. “I used to crawl and try to stand up on the rugged terrains of our village, barefoot,” he narrates. But Raja was a child with an iron will and soon he resorted to walking with axillary crutches, following a critical knee surgery.
The forgotten children of murder convicts
In his youth, his friends advised him to approach some influential political leaders to help finance his education in a good college. “A few of them made promises and gave me a lot of hope, only to never keep their words. I was terribly disheartened,” KR Raja recalls.
This untoward experience led KR Raja to pursue a degree in social development, with the aim to help as many helpless people in society as possible. “As part of a project, I visited the Puducherry Central Prison to communicate with the prisoners and learn about their psychosocial rehabilitation. To my disbelief, I found that almost 35 out of the 50 convicted men were accused of murdering their wives. More shockingly, in many cases, they have had a love marriage,” he reveals. The prolonged interactive sessions with the prisoners narrating their horrific crimes gave him sleepless nights for months.
Filled with remorse, all of them asked him the same question – “How are my children?” – to which Raja had no answer as the prison authorities do not maintain any contact with the families of the convicts. “There is no law which even remotely mentions about the prisoners’ children, who are basically a forgotten entity,” he shares. In absence of love and care in their nascent years, and branded as “prisoner’s child” by the society, these children often turn to the dark path of crime. “At least the prisoners don’t have to worry about food, even in confinement. But their children are often left to starve, beg or steal,” he sighs.
GNE – The saviour of helpless childhood
Ganesh (name changed) was too intoxicated to realise that he had killed his wife and baby boy in a fit of rage. When he gradually regained his sobriety later in prison, he remembered little of the incident and was shocked to find out the crime he had committed. His daughter, who was in school at the time of the incident, was left in the care of her aged maternal grandmother. The old lady did the backbreaking work of selling ‘idli’ and struggled to provide a proper childhood to the innocent teenager. “When I first visited her, she was furious to hear the name of her killer son-in-law. I sat her down and patiently expressed that I intended to fund the child’s education. Today, she has enrolled in the Nursing course and leading an ambitious life,” Raja shares with delight.
Funded by corporates and compassionate individuals, KR Raja’s NGO Global Network for Equality financially supports around 154 children of prison inmates, who are being raised by their grandparents, mothers or other close relatives. “Around 18 children with no immediate caregiver are growing up in five shelter homes across Tamil Nadu,” he informs.
KR Raja’s untiring selfless efforts truly achieve their peak when the children grow up as good citizens and pursue decent careers. Raja tells Efforts For Good, “GNE has offered scholarships to eight such children who are now doing their Bachelors, Masters or even Post-Doctorates.”
Challenges and future plans
However, the noble work has its fair share of challenges, ranging from limited information about the prisoners’ families to the impassivity of the Prison Department to divulge such details, even to genuine social organisations.
Recently, GNE has also started focusing on rehabilitation of released prisoners who find it hard to adapt to the society after serving years in prison. “If a father finds his children in good condition when he is freed, he will also feel motivated to start afresh,” he elaborates.
“As of now, my work is concentrated in Tamil Nadu,” says KR Raja, adding, “This is a daunting but must-needed work. I would urge other socially-driven individuals and organisations to initiate similar efforts in all parts of India.”
Efforts For Good salutes the indomitable spirit of KR Raja who has saved hundreds of helpless children from getting lost in the vortex of a cruel society.