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Sat, 16 Dec 2017

Northeast Today

Messiah for Slum Children

Messiah for Slum Children
December 02
14:01 2017

October Edition, In Conversation, NET Bureau, Sayantani Deb

Miguel Das Queah, one of the most pro-active child right practitioners of the Northeast, has made a mark in the field with his dedication and continuous efforts for making the lives of marginalized children better. At 26, he founded UTSAH – the NGO that made him the youngest child rights practitioner of the region. In conversation with Northeast Today, the passionate child rights crusader speaks more about his work and life…

Knowing the Man

There is a rarity of people who walk an extra mile to make the world a better place to live in. Miguel Das Queah is one such individual who, apart from walking that extra mile, has been wholeheartedly working to make world a better place to live in for the children.

A History graduate from St. Stephen’s College (New Delhi), Miguel since the past few years has been relentlessly working to uplift the children of the slums of Guwahati.

“It was inside the womb of that old institution, that I came to realise the very essence of being the person I am now. When I look back, I still remember that my college has instilled within me,” said Miguel in a candid chitchat with NET.

His life changed in 2008, when as the Vice-President of St Stephen’s, Miguel got the opportunity to visit the US as a part of a student leaders’ programme- Study of the United States Institutes for Student Leaders.

“Besides, covering a range of issues and subjects related to leadership, community service was a crucial component of the programme. During the programme, I got a chance to volunteer two top voluntary organisations- Kent Senior Citizens Centre and St Leo’s Food Connection- that helped me a lot to know and understand about social service,” recollects the young activist.

Perspective Changing Encounters

“In October 2010, I had the opportunity of meeting the Missile Man of India and former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. In the first half of the meeting, I explained him about the poor system of services in the country, ineffectiveness of the ruling government, apathy of the average Indian etc.,” shares Miguel.

“After giving a patient hearing for over 20 minutes, Dr Kalam in his composed demeanour, looked straight into my eyes and asked, ‘Miguel, what are you doing to address these issues of your own country?’ Unfortunately, I had no answer to his simple question. In fact, it was most unsettling for me to realise that he too didn’t have an instant answer,” recollects Miguel.

“Before I could gather adequate words to construct a suitable response, Dr Kalam instructed me to speculate and find a solution to these problems. He made me understand that even though many things had gone wrong in the country, there are still other things that could go right,” says Miguel.

Recollecting his conversation with Dr Kalam, Miguel further said, “It is easier to sit in a drawing room and argue about children illiteracy in India, than to actually start teaching a group of children in the neighbouring slum.”

This valued conversation made him realise that without his direct contribution the idea of a developed India remains incomplete.

Furthermore, Miguel said that an interaction with noted Assamese litterateur late Dr Mamoni Raisom Goswami also had an everlasting impact in his life.

“Miguel, you are an Assamese boy. If you go to Delhi, you will just end up as one of those who have left the state and then are always complaining about the backwardness of the state. This is the time your motherland needs you. If you cannot clean your own courtyard, you cannot clean the world,” said Miguel recollecting Dr Goswami’s words.

UTSAH and Thereafter

Words of inspiration often work as the splinter that ignites an ‘idle’ mind, helping it to find a motto in life. It also leads one to the road that leads a thriving mind towards the fulfilment of the motto.

Interactions with Dr Kalam and Dr Goswami worked as that splinter for a young Miguel. After he returned to Assam in early 2011 with zeal to do something for the deprived slum children of Guwahati, Miguel set foot on a journey that lead him to his dream and subsequently he founded UTSAH (Universal Team for Social Action and Help)- an organisation dedicated for the welfare of children.

“During community visits I observed that women complained about domestic violence, men talked about low wages. But when it came to children, I found that they were unable to articulate the issues concerning their welfare. For them, everything was fine! This inability to express or talk about the issues concerning them stood as the biggest hurdle in the path of their development and protection,” says Miguel.

Speaking about the methods used by him to penetrate into the minds of the children, Miguel said, “For narratives of children to be heard and to be a part of the mainstream, it is necessary to build their intelligence about their own rights. For this we organized several participatory workshops, age-appropriate training sessions and movie screenings.”

“Children in the community were absolutely unaware that they had a right to protection from sexual abuse. Considering this gap, we organized innovative sessions on the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012, which finally led to the understanding on the different kinds of sexual abuse and the systems that were in place to respond to violations,” he added.

Miguel’s efforts have not gone in vain as he and his team has been successful in changing the mind-set and perspectives of Hafiznagar No2.

Achievements

As a children rights crusader, Miguel till date has dealt with hundreds of cases where he has managed to secure a breakthrough.

• Child sexual abuse case in 2013, where the accused was convicted under section 8 of POCSO and awarded a two year imprisonment (State Vs Mahendra Hazarika Case). This was one of the speediest trials in the Kamrup (M) district.

• Child labour and child sexual assault (CSA) by a professor of veterinary college Dr Dhrubajyoti Kalita.

•Rescuing of two trafficked Sikkim minors from Cachar district of Assam.

Future Plans

Speaking about his future plans, Miguel adds, “Ideally, l would love to replicate my primary prevention model at the Hafiznagar No2 slum community to other areas of Assam as well.”

He is currently on the lookout for empathetic funders who can help him up-scale his programme.

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