Platform 8: A Documentary Film

October 2008 – September 2009: Directed by Ms.Padma Reddy.

“Any one who has seen Slumdog Millionaire should see this muted documentary, directed with sympathy and style by Ms Padma Reddy…” Dr Vithal Rajan in the Hindu on 26th June 2009.

Platform 8-a short documentary of the life of children on railway platforms and the work of NGOs on platform. Platform 8 captures the situation of runaway children who have made this platform in Secunderabd station their home. The stories are of children who choose to runaway and the efforts of those who are determined to protect them from the perils of their situation.

Children leave home for many reasons –the lures of city life, the opportunities to make a fast buck or the fear of significant elders like father, mother, brother, employers, guardians or teachers. While children of all ages are running away this tendency is seen most in adolescents. They often find their ways to railway stations and build their lives around them. They are continuously exposed to harsh environments. They are vulnerable to risks such as to inadequate nutrition, physical and sexual abuse, and health problems. They are not well anchored in appropriate relationships that shape childhood and those who have been on the platforms for a long time seem to have ‘hardened’ and lost their childhood.

They are prematurely forced to deal with adult fears of violence, crime and untimely death. Perhaps to cope with such conditions, many resort to the use of psychoactive substances like alcohol, cigarettes, beedi and ‘solution’ (toluene).

Many NGO interventions and government initiatives address these issues, and work to provide safe shelter, education and wherever possible reunite the children with their parents. They keep a constant vigil on railway platforms to identify these children and guide them in various ways. When their staff identify lost children they persuade them to come to the shelter. Once brought to the shelter, the child often shares details of home and his situation at home. Parents are contacted, parents and both parents and children are counselled, and finally repatriation takes place. In cases where repatriation is not possible, other options such as vocational training or education possibilities are considered.

They also organise month long de-addiction and home orientation camps for those habituated to platform life and its joys. In most cases a happy reunion occurs and the child is back in his track in the safety of a family or an institution offering vocational training. However there are exceptions as this documentary reveals! Children have their own simple reasons and it is often difficult for the adults around to absorb this simplicity.
The success of the repatriation pivots on the relationship that forms between the field staff and the child, and the understanding and trust established. It is this trust that makes the child willing to reintegrate with the community, and take more positive decisions given his life situation.

Thus, the staff plays a sensitive role at a crucial juncture in the lives of the child and his family members. They are constantly trying to find new ways of relating more holistically with the child to gently guide the choice.

This film authentically captures both sides of the story –the lives of such children and those who work for their safety and well being.