One of the most celebrated times of the year; Diwali usually finds India lit up by colourful lights and lamps. The festival is an indicator of the return of hope, the conquest of light over darkness and good over evil. With so many prevalent social evils, our country has a long way to go before we can celebrate a Better Diwali.

Here are 4 stories that might give an insight into how a country which celebrates Better Diwali looks.

Sumukh Mehta, Student

When asked about his special Diwali plans, Sumukh Mehta, an Engineering student said he wanted to make a difference. Starting a couple of months ago, Mehta and his friends have been making the life of street kids a little sweeter in the smallest of ways. Their campaigns have been aimed at reducing the number of child labourers, beggars, and ensuring that every child is treated with respect.

We started out with our first campaign, and our catchphrase was scribbled on a piece of cardboard with a marker: ‘I don’t want your money, I just want food.’ We targeted the busiest part of Bangalore on a weekend, to ensure that amongst all that chaos, people take in the idea behind the campaigns. Our next catchphrase was:It's my birthday, please treat me.'

With this campaign, we ensured people knew that even though it wasn’t their birthday, the children on MG Road and Brigade Road deserved equal treatment to those children who have a family and home. I’ve always said that it’s a vicious cycle, where we hit these poor children, and they tend to hate the world. With no food, no knowledge and no love being given, they become addicted to different kinds of wrongs.

It is up to us educated people to make a change. Our Diwali campaign, ‘Enlighten me’, was a fun time for the kids with a Diwali package of colours, sweets and gifts. My friends and I took these children to a popular doughnut and coffee shop, and the security guard wouldn’t let us in. It is such mentality we aimed to change this Diwali, by enlightening the minds of these children and the people around us.

Maitreyee Kumar and Karun Gopinath, Dream School Foundation

Successfully managing the Dream School Foundation for just over 10 years, Maitreyee Kumar has been ensuring children in government schools don’t drop out or forget the value of education. Kumar, with Karun Gopinath on the team as well, manages three centres with 4 government schools under their care.

The schools that are on defence property, and are neglected or suffer from lack of funds, ones that are on the verge of closing down, we manage such schools. Our aim is to ensure these kids stay in school and do not end up getting married or as child labourers.

The public education system is grossly ignored and looked down upon, and that is something we intend to change. Bridging the gap between public and private education is our main aim. This Diwali, our partners, volunteers and children, all got together to realize the importance of Diwali.

The festivities included cleaning up the government schools, painting the compound, reading sessions, an impromptu skit, and colouring competitions. The children had a lot of fun, and so did we. This however, also ensured that they understood the lessons of being clean and good over evil.

We have different methods of ensuring that the children are provided the strength of education. We have something called ‘Headstart’, where they are allowed to pick schools and ‘10 Plus’, where they are funded even after 10th standard. It is just a small way to ensure their families have a future through them. Our aim is to stir into action the volunteering spirit of the community."

Sarah Santamaria, DIYA Foundation

Adults and children alike, who have Cerebral Palsy (CP) or Mental Retardation (MR) are often mistreated by their family. Families consider them incapable of being a source of income or productivity. At Diya Foundation, they aim to give these individuals training on social skills, and vocational skills.

“Every one of our students is special in some way. We realized that though ‘special’ schools train them in how to read and write, they had nowhere to go to apply for jobs. We opened up our foundation to provide them with vocational training and jobs to ensure they feel a sense of self-worth. They take back home the money they make out of our different departments.

We have a diya/candle making unit, where they paint the diyas and decorate them. We also have a paper recycling unit which provides the raw materials to make the papier-mâché lamps and bowls that they make. Each of them has a separate target that they have to achieve, either on a daily or weekly basis. It is the self-esteem that they gain out of achieveing each of these targets that gives them knowledge of a world of opportunities beyond even Diya Foundation.

It’s a yearlong process, their painting of diyas and making papier-mâché bowls. They begin by January and their efforts bear fruits during Diwali and other festive seasons. Diwali is our busiest time of the year, since we have diyas and trays going out to different corporates and individuals.”

Monika Gupta, Financial Industry Professional

When it takes several small drops to make a mighty ocean, change can be initiated by just one individual. This is the policy followed by Monkia Gupta. A professional in the financial industry, she feels the need to have to give back to society just as much as she receives.

“I moved here a few years ago from Mumbai, and I have wanted to do something special for those who are not as fortunate as I am. This year, I decided that I would go to the area where my household help stays, and distribute some fireworks and sweets. I was discussing this with my friend, who advised me to give something other than fireworks, since fireworks are a source of air pollution, trouble to animals and child labour.

I realized how we take the smallest things for granted, and it is the small things that will make a big difference in the lives of those who are underprivileged. I decided to hand out sweets, gifts and stationery so I could indirectly encourage them to study. Every small change can make a difference in their lives, and bring about a brighter world.”

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