History of Asha Niketan Kolkata

ASHA NIKETAN CALCUTTA, 1972-1989

The story of Asha Niketan Calcutta began more than thirty years ago and it began in reality in Bangalore where the first Indian community of l’Arche was born. The Calcutta community is a seed of the nice little tree that Asha Niketan Bangalore has become after a few years…
When Gabrielle Einsle came for the first time in Calcutta for a short visit in August 1972 with the idea to begin a new community she fell in love with the city. Then, with great determination she succeeded in creating the right conditions for the establishment of a home. A few months later she came back to the city with Jean Vanier, Doctor Remy and Padma of Administrative Council. A Committee of local help was created and the Archbishop of Calcutta offered the use of St John’s presbytery for the new home and the use of the church basement for a workshop. From here was born the Calcutta Community, a little “oasis” of greenery hidden in Sealdah’s commotion…
The founding members had their first meeting on 4th March 1973 but the home commenced operations in May 1973 with two men: Kashi, still with us and Peter, who left later. Gabrielle, with her experience in l’Arche homes in Europe and the establishment of the home in Bangalore in 1970, was the first director of the Calcutta Community.

First times were full of enthusiasm, hard work and encouragement but also for different reasons very difficult. Life in Calcutta in the 1970’s implies a daily fight to live and those who have known the city at that time cannot have forgotten the ration tickets, the queues with no end, the hours waiting in traffic jam in crowded buses or trams… The first members of the community had to face the misunderstanding of people who couldn’t see the meaning of that and the most difficulty has been the coming and going of people assistants or core members which implied a constant renewal of each detail of the community life and development project of the home. During the first months the house nearly survived thanks to visitor who came to spend a few weeks in the community.

Within a few months after opening the house, they were able to get subcontracts work from Philips for the men in the workshop, which not only helped financially but provided also work therapy.

After 5 years 9 resident handicapped were in the community, two day-workers and 2 resident assistants. The objectives of these years were to become as financially autonomic as possible and the difficulties had always been to find Indian assistants and to get sufficient handicapped adult from families (who often want their son to be with people from low status).
Most difficult period has been the beginning of 80’s where it was even talked to close the house temporally because of the lack of assistants and director and also the end of the contract with Philips factory. At a very critical point, Gabrielle (who had left after being director during 3 years) came to rescue on October 1980 as director again. She slowly but surely put the community on the right track.

The biggest event of the story of Asha Niketan since it began happened in 1989 when the community had to change its location. In 1988, the community was informed that the Catholic Church wanted the Sealdah complex for Mother Teresa, but, in return, it was offered 24 cottas of land by the Missionaries of Charity in his complex at Tangra on a long term lease with the permission of the Government of West Bengal so that they could build a permanent home and workshop. The core-group had gotten used to their Sealdah home and it was not easy for them to transfer but there was also lots of excitement… So, in December 1989, 16 years after the opening of After the rather cramped accommodations in Sealdah, the community, the transfer of activities took place from Sealdah to Tangra. A page in the history of Asha Niketan Calcutta was turned.

After the rather cramped accommodations in Sealdah, the community members were able to enjoy the vastly improved facilities in Tangra: a two storied building for residents core-members and assistants, director’s quarters, a separate single storied workshop cum office and two fairly large-sized gardens.

The year 1998 was an important year in the history of Asha Niketan Calcutta.
That is how 21 January 1998 wrote a new chapter in the history of the Calcutta Community. Braving the cold rainy day and gusting wind a group of Core-members and assistants crossed the threshold of their new house at 24/1B Pottery Road, acquired with the help of donors, well wishers, the full cooperation of the Government of West Bengal and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and of course, the help of God.
Each one of the Core-members could choose freely to live in the new house or to stay in the first one.

A Second workshop was opened in the Pottery Road house. Candles and batik made in the Tangra workshop, while on Pottery Road postcards, tie and die clothes and paper bags are done. With the opening of the second workshop more day workers could be admitted.
In 1998 Asha Niketan celebrates its Silver Jubilee: 25 years since the creation of the community! This important date was a great occasion to celebrate all together and big festivities took place. Jean Vanier came to visit the Calcutta Community and could inaugurate the new house. Gabrielle also, who put the first brick on the edifice in 1972, was present… And all the friends of the community in India as the members of the three other Indian communities of l’Arche (Bangalore, Madras and Calicut), and friends from many countries all throughout the world came to celebrate… On 16 December, more than 400 persons were gathered in Calcutta to celebrate in joy such a happy event. Many things were organized for the occasion: a dance-drama by all Calcutta community core members and assistant, a photo exhibition as well as the publication of a brochure “souvenirs”…

Years 1998 to today have opened a new period for the community: The year 2008 the General Assembly of International L’Arche was held in Kolkata and more than 200 hundreds members of all over World came and join this Assembly programme. Now Asha Niketan, Kolkata, directly serves more than 80 core members with intellectual disabilities. The family-like atmosphere of the community allows those who have intellectual disabilities,  as well as those who do not, to create a home, to develop their gifts, to build friendships or just simply to enjoy life. Over the years Asha Niketan, Kolkata has developed an impressive infrastructure, both in terms of human resource and of physical assets, with an ongoing Rehabilitation Programme together with Day Care Centre and Sheltered Workshops. This infrastructure is poised now for further development and growth. Earmarked funding will help to consolidate the Day Care and Vocational Programme and establish it as the community’s core activity for empowerment of persons with mental handicap by encouraging growth of self- dependence, human dignity and self- worth.