A 48-year-old taxi driver, who had to drop out of school due to financial inability to buy a uniform, collects discarded clothes and distributes them among dwellers of shut tea gardens in north Bengal's Dooars region.
Saju Talukdar of Alipurduar district's Birpara started the charity by forming a 'cloth bank' in 2017, naming it after legendary tribal leader Birsa Munda.
"While driving between Siliguri and different parts of north Bengal, I used to often come across scantily-clothed people begging on the streets and scanning through garbage for food and clothes. Upon inquiry, I found most of them were workers of shut tea gardens. That drove me to help them," he told PTI.
Assisted by his wife Mamoni and sons Alamgir and Sohel, Talukdar collects the old and discarded clothes from affluent families and distributes them to residents of over 12 closed tea gardens in the area.
He said his initiative has been appreciated by the people of Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts, many of whom now bring bags full of old clothes to his 'cloth bank'.
"I dream of giving new clothes to the poor, some day," he said.
Talukdar said the sight of poor, helpless people reminded him of his childhood.
"Uniform was compulsory in my school from Class 5 onwards. My father, who used to earn a living by repairing umbrellas, made me a uniform from discarded clothes. However, it got torn within a year and he could not afford to buy more old clothes to make me another uniform. Hence, I had to drop out of school," he said.
After dropping out, Talukdar joined his father in repairing umbrellas but soon took a liking to driving.
Apart from running a 'cloth bank', Saju Talukdar also runs an 18-inmate strong shelter home for abandoned aged and differently-abled people.
While Talukdar initially gave shelter to the people in his Indira Awas Yojna house in Alipurduar's Dimdima Hatkhola area in 2015, a few locals donated half-an-acre land a year ago for establishing a shelter home.
"Doctors of the local government hospital treat the inmates for free and one Siliguri-based psychiatrist comes down weekly once to check them. Locals have also donated many essentials for running the shelter home," he said.
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