Home­less in the cap­i­tal

They are dan­gling at the mar­gins as ev­ery so­cial safety net fails to catch them

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Ankita Sharma

Ad­dress: Home­less

it’s a strange ad­dress: Home­less, Basti niza­mud­din, niza­mud­din West, new delhi. But this is what is printed on Salma’s voter iden­tity card. She has had it lam­i­nated and keeps it in a tat­tered pouch hang­ing around her waist. She calls it her pe­hchaan pa­tra, and it is in fact the only proof she has of her iden­tity in the cap­i­tal. She has no home, and ob­vi­ously, with­out proof of res­i­dence, it was an al­most im­pos­si­ble task to get proof of iden­tity.

in fact, Salma, 25, now lives on the foot­path across the road from Hanu­man mandir, near con­naught Place. She has led a wan­der­ing life on the streets, and says she was in the niza­mud­din area when she ob­tained her voter id card. Four leafy trees have grown on the wall near which she hangs about. nearby, there’s a locked pub­lic con­ve­nience. There’s no one mov­ing about on long street in the af­ter­noon as most of those who live here are drug­gies, sleep­ing out their high. For Salma, home now is a brown printed sheet, laid on the ground; her pos­ses­sions, just two bun­dles, stuffed with some clothes. Her neigh­bour and friend is anita, who bears a long scar on her left cheek. With them is a three-year-old boy, the son of Salma’s el­der sis­ter. The boy is fast asleep. “His mother is a drug ad­dict, so he lives with us on the streets. We have no idea where my sis­ter is. Why give birth to chil­dren if you can­not take care of them?” she says. “He’ll live with­out an iden­tity, like most of us.”

Her own strug­gle for some­thing as ba­sic as proof of her name and who she is be­gan with out­right re­jec­tion. “Some­one told me voter id cards were be­ing made, and it would be use­ful to have them, for we could use it as proof of ad­dress,” she says. “So, along with some oth­ers, I went to an elec­tion of­fice and asked for forms. on see­ing us in our tat­tered clothes, the of­fi­cer drove us out. He didn’t lis­ten to us and shooed us away. We didn’t know what to say, and he was say­ing things in english. I’ve taken a lot of abuse from po­lice­men, of­fi­cers. It’s not easy be­ing home­less.” She knows it well: she’s been liv­ing on the streets since she was nine, when her mother came to delhi af­ter her fa­ther’s death, with Salma and her seven sib­lings tag­ging along. They have begged for a liv­ing. She’s un­able to ex­actly de­scribe what of­fice it was that she vis­ited, but a month later, she ap­plied again.

“i man­aged to get the form this time, but i didn’t know how to read and write, i had never held a pen. no­body would help me write. no­body would help me read the ques­tions in the form. For days I had the form but did not know how to fill it. I was not sure how this would work out. i once asked a po­lice­man to help

me; he in­stead started hurl­ing abuses, say­ing that when i didn’t know how to read or write, where was the need for a pe­hchaan pa­tra?” she says. al­most two weeks passed, noth­ing seemed to work out for her. mean­while, she’d ask any­one who looked padha likha (ed­u­cated) to help her, but no one would stop to help. Then a bunch of col­lege-go­ing girls helped out.

“They seemed a cheer­ful group of col­lege girls, and they said they’d help,” she re­calls. “They told me i had to put my photo there as well, but i didn’t have one.”

as much as Salma wanted to get the iden­tity card, luck was clearly not on her side. one night, the po­lice be­gan to clear the foot­paths – ap­par­ently on the or­der of “some lg” – and all her be­long­ings were taken and thrown away. What’s worse, they were beaten up with lathis and pre­vented from col­lect­ing their be­long­ings be­fore they left. She lost the forms that she had filled out too.

af­ter los­ing her be­long­ings, she lost all hope. She had to feed her­self. “So i was back to beg­ging, strug­gling to have two meals a day,” she says. “i had al­most for­got­ten about my fight for iden­tity.” But her luck changed one day, when word came that there was a new of­fi­cial who might help, and that we should try again. “An of­fi­cial came to us and filled out our forms. This bunch of of­fi­cials was bet­ter than the previous one.” But it still took time and vis­its to at least two of­fices be­fore they re­ceived their ID cards five months later.

The roof­less 3 mil­lion

in and around rail­way sta­tions, bus stops, places of wor­ship, and un­der bridges or fly­overs, at con­struc­tion sites, grave­yards and dump­yards they live. They are the home­less. ac­cord­ing to the cen­sus of 2011, in­dia has more than 1.7 mil­lion home­less res­i­dents, of whom 9,38,384 live in our cities. The fig­ures are bound to have gone up in the six years since then. Be­sides, many vol­un­tary groups which work with the home­less say that the cen­sus fig­ures were a lower es­ti­ma­tion than re­al­ity sug­gests. They say at least one per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of ur­ban in­dia is home­less. Based on this, it can be ex­trap­o­lated that the pop­u­la­tion of the ur­ban home­less is at least three mil­lion. in the cap­i­tal city of delhi alone, at any given point, civil so­ci­ety es­ti­mates place the num­ber of home­less at 1.5-2 lakh, of whom at least 10,000 are women. in­dia also has the high­est num­ber of street chil­dren in the world, but there is no of­fi­cial data on their numbers or ad­e­quate schemes to re­spond to their special needs and con­cerns. “In­dia is de­fi­cient in large numbers, both in terms of shel­ters as well as the shel­ter space per per­son. as ad­vo­cated by the supreme court ap­pointed com­mis­sioner’s of­fice es­ti­mate one per­cent of ev­ery city’s pop­u­la­tion is home­less. Go­ing by this, if the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion is 377 mil­lion, then at least 3.7 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion is home­less,” says indu Prakash Singh, a so­cial worker with ac­tion aid in­ter­na­tional who has worked ex­ten­sively with the home­less.

Here’s a look, then, at the lives of those who live on the streets of delhi. Rights that we take for granted are de­nied to them by sarkari of­fices – as the story of Salma’s strug­gle for a voter id card demon­strated. Peo­ple are born on the streets and they die here af­ter an ex­is­tence that de­nies them what a cit­i­zen in any na­tion would get as right.

The story of a birth

ly­ing next to her month-old baby boy, Vishakha, 22, shud­ders as she says, “i will never for­get that night. i was so close to death.” She casts a look at her son who is sleep­ing well-wrapped in her sari. She is speak­ing of the night the child was born.

Vishakha lives un­der the Sarai Kale Khan fly­over with two daugh­ters; Sh­weta, aged 4, and Su­jata, aged 2, and her hus­band Vi­jay. She re­calls the night with dread. This is the story of how the child was born.

it was half past one in the night. The road across the Sarai Kale Khan fly­over was de­serted; one or two cars or trucks would pass by. only a few street­lights were on, leav­ing the street al­most pitch dark. Vishakha says she was un­able to sleep that night, dizzy, nau­se­ated by

In the cap­i­tal city of Delhi alone, at any given point, civil so­ci­ety es­ti­mates place the num­ber of home­less at 1.5-2 lakh, of whom at least 10,000 are women.

the pain that ran right from her ab­domen to her thighs. “i did not think it was time for labour,” she says. “i thought it would pass and kept bear­ing it for a while. But the pain be­came in­tol­er­a­ble and i started to groan. my hus­band was not around that night; he comes late at times. my neigh­bours im­me­di­ately came to my res­cue.” She points to Rani, a hazel-eyed woman who lives next to Vishakha’s spot be­low the fly­over.

Says Rani, “Since it was quite late in the night, we were con­fused whether we should take her to hos­pi­tal or help her out here it­self. in such sit­u­a­tions, peo­ple are quite hes­i­tant to even help each other. They turn into mute spec­ta­tors see­ing such an ex­treme sit­u­a­tion.”

Rani and some oth­ers hired an au­torick­shaw and rushed Vishakha to a gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tal. By the time they reached, it was 2 am. “But what hap­pened there was shock­ing,” says Rani an­grily. “When we reached the emer­gency ward, they asked us stupid ques­tions like where is her fam­ily, whether she has an id proof, which we told that we had for­got­ten to carry. a hos­pi­tal staffer re­fused to take her in say­ing that they would not treat her with­out an id proof, and that we should get the card if we want a safe de­liv­ery of hers. We then went to an­other doc­tor who said that Vishakha does not look like she is in labour, and that we must go back as this could be a nor­mal pain of her trimester. We pleaded, re­quested as she whined in pain.”

at their wits’ end, they all de­cided to take Vishakha to the all-in­dia in­sti­tute of med­i­cal Sci­ences. “We thought if not any­where else, at least the doc­tors at aiims would help out,” she says. “We tried to pick her up and bring her out of the hos­pi­tal to some­how take her to aiims. But her sit­u­a­tion turned worse all of a sud­den. She col­lapsed and the baby was de­liv­ered right out­side the hos­pi­tal.”

There are many cases like Vishakha’s, of course, but hos­pi­tals of­ten refuse to ad­mit peo­ple with­out some proof of id, es­pe­cially if they are poor and ragged. When get­ting an id it­self is a prob­lem, they are shut out from all other fa­cil­i­ties the gov­ern­ment is meant to pro­vide.

Food in­se­cu­rity

The na­tional Food Se­cu­rity act, 2013, says that every­one has a right to food; it has also brought the pub­lic dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem (PDS) un­der its purview, so that, at least on pa­per, no one can be de­nied food. But for most home­less, food is what they beg for or get from those who are kind enough to hand out.

it’s af­ter­noon and Pankaj, who lives un­der the Nehru Place fly­over in delhi, asks his son to get two plates of

“Some­one told me voter ID cards were be­ing made, and it would be use­ful to have them, for we could use it as proof of ad­dress... I went to an elec­tion of­fice and asked for forms. On see­ing us in our tat­tered clothes, the of­fi­cer drove us out. He didn’t lis­ten to us and shooed us away... I’ve taken a lot of abuse from po­lice­men, of­fi­cers. It’s not easy be­ing home­less.” Salma, Home­less

ra­jma-chawal from a nearby bhan­dara, or out­let where free food is served to the poor. it’s a lucky day for the fam­ily.

“This is not enough for the whole fam­ily, but with wa­ter it will suf­fice. It is a lucky day be­cause we didn’t have to beg in front of the dhabas,” says Pankaj. “most of the time, we are un­able to earn enough. There’s a kind lady who of­fers lunch to peo­ple like us ev­ery Thurs­day af­ter­noon. So we wait for lunch from her ev­ery Thurs­day.” He hands the two plates to his wife Lata, who of­fers some to their twoyear-old daugh­ter, who is just up af­ter a nap. What about other days? “We go around look­ing or beg­ging for food – or stay hun­gry,” says Pankaj.

in 2015, the food and sup­plies de­part­ment of the delhi gov­ern­ment an­nounced that due to the de­lay in the de­liv­ery of ra­tion cards to the eco­nom­i­cally weaker sec­tions it had de­cided to pro­vide an on­line link that will al­low ap­pli­cants to in­stantly print their cards. un­der the food se­cu­rity scheme, the el­dest woman in a fam­ily can buy rice at a sub­sidised rate of ₹3 and wheat at ₹2 per kg. The pro­ce­dure is for in­di­vid­u­als to log on to the web­site – nfs.delhi.gov.in – and print out their card af­ter pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion such as name, aad­haar num­ber and reg­is­tered mo­bile num­ber.

But the home­less hardly have ac­cess to the in­ter­net. and many of them do not have any kind of iden­tity. So it’s back into the same hole. no id, so no ra­tion card, so no PDS food.

Says so­cial worker Su­nil Ku­mar ale­dia, head of the cen­tre for Holis­tic de­vel­op­ment, an ad­vo­cacy group that over­sees the func­tion­ing of 180 night shel­ters for the home­less: “There are no poli­cies for the home­less of the cap­i­tal. if we take a cue from the PDS, to make a ra­tion card one is re­quired to give aad­haar or voter id card as an iden­tity proof, a res­i­dence proof and also an af­fi­davit cit­ing the ap­pli­cant is a res­i­dent of the cap­i­tal. There­fore, most of the home­less do not have ra­tion cards. and many who do, are not able to avail the ben­e­fit of the scheme.”

Black­board un­der the bridge

The pil­lars serve as mark­ers of its bound­ary, and above them runs a bridge on which runs the delhi metro. Be­low, chil­dren like 10-year-old mahima learn mul­ti­pli­ca­tion ta­bles from Ra­jesh Ku­mar Sharma, a gro­cer who has turned teacher to home­less chil­dren. The ‘school’, if you can call it that, is his brain­child, and is lo­cated in the Shakarpur area of east delhi. it even has a name, painted on one of the ‘walls’: ‘Free School un­der the Bridge’.

Some 80 chil­dren at­tend this school, for they are un­likely to get ad­mis­sion in any other school. Their par­ents can­not af­ford bet­ter schools, and gov­ern­ment schools re­quire that their par­ents have proper doc­u­men­ta­tion or ad­dress proof – which of course the par­ents can­not sup­ply, be­ing home­less.

“We hear the roar of the metro train pass­ing over­head – it’s the sheer beauty of this place,” says Sharma. “it re­minds us how dif­fer­ent an ini­tia­tive this is. and that in­spires me to en­sure that i give my best in teach­ing these chil­dren so that their child­hood is not lost in the tra­vails of poverty.”

The fortysome­thing Sharma sits on a chair fac­ing the chil­dren, and be­hind him is a wall painted in a mo­saic of colours. There’s also a painted black­board cov­ered with arith­metic prob­lems. a maths class is on. “most of these chil­dren do not like maths. Some like to study english, some like Hindi,” he says.

among those who turns up reg­u­larly is mahima. “Sir is very nice and teaches us pa­tiently. He cor­rects our mis­takes and gives us home­work daily,” she says. She then com­pletes writ­ing out a mul­ti­pli­ca­tion ta­ble on the board.

There are a few such schools, run in­for­mally by well-mean­ing men and women, where the home­less can send their chil­dren to study. These aren’t gov­ern­ment af­fairs, and are run on money and ef­fort the founders and teach­ers (usu­ally the same per­son) put in. it isn’t much, but they hope to make a dif­fer­ence and in­deed, for the chil­dren, it does make a dif­fer­ence.

The Right of chil­dren to Free and Com­pul­sory Ed­u­ca­tion (RTE) Act, 2009,

The chil­dren liv­ing un­der the fly­over say the win­dows of the gov­ern­ment school al­ways re­main bro­ken. The street chil­dren do go into the school some­times, but it is only to beg for food or sell pens or pen­cils.

prom­ises free and com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion to all chil­dren be­tween six and 14 as a fun­da­men­tal right. no child ad­mit­ted to a gov­ern­ment school, or ob­tain­ing ad­mis­sion in a pri­vate school un­der the eco­nom­i­cally back­ward cat­e­gory needs to pay any fee. This is meant to en­sure that ev­ery child by right gets good qual­ity school­ing. It also spec­i­fies that no child may be de­nied ad­mis­sion on the ground that she or he does not have res­i­dence proof or other doc­u­ments. But this hardly trans­lates into ac­tion on the ground.

Hardly any­one among the chil­dren liv­ing un­der the fly­over near Nehru Place goes to school. There’s a gov­ern­ment school lo­cated me­tres away, on one side of the fly­over. The chil­dren liv­ing un­der the fly­over say the win­dows of the school al­ways re­main

bro­ken. The street chil­dren do go into the school some­times, but it is only to beg for food or sell pens or pen­cils.

Raju, who begs or sells knick-knacks be­neath the fly­over, says rather in­dif­fer­ently, “at times, we have no idea of how to af­ford even one meal a day. Send­ing our kids to school is a far­fetched idea. our kids too have to beg for food, so we have no op­tion. if they go to school, how will we func­tion?”

A bath in four days

For pedd­lars and ven­dors, it’s busi­ness as usual on the chaotic road be­hind Jama masjid. There are labour­ers seek­ing work, drifters whiling away time. The lanes in the area twist and turn, the only open space be­ing a park­ing lot that can ac­com­mo­date some 50 cars. near the park­ing lot is a raen basera, or

state gov­ern­ment-run night shel­ter for the home­less. Yas­meen, who sifts garbage to find stuff that can be sold for a few ru­pees, has spent much of her time at the raen basera since her jhuggi was de­mol­ished in a drive against il­le­gal con­struc­tions.

one end of her crum­pled sari still cov­ers her head, for she is just back af­ter na­maz. She al­leges that dur­ing the de­mo­li­tion drive, many of the be­long­ings of peo­ple liv­ing in the il­le­gal colony were burnt by the po­lice­men. She lost her hus­band’s death cer­tifi­cate, and the birth cer­tifi­cates of her four chil­dren – doc­u­ments which might have helped her get a toe­hold in of­fi­cial­dom for iden­tity pa­pers.

“Ev­ery­thing went up in flames,” says the lanky woman, her speech un­clear. Her 17-year-old daugh­ter nafeesa joins

her to give her some con­fi­dence. They say nafeesa had to miss out on col­lege for want of ₹3,500. now, life re­volves around the raen basera by night and sift­ing through garbage by day.

The night shel­ter has space for about 40 peo­ple but is usu­ally over­crowded at night. By day, there are bun­dles of clothes and rag-tag suit­cases scat­tered around, the own­ers away for work or for do­ing drugs. There’s a small kitchen area with a stove and some uten­sils, where peo­ple are al­lowed to cook their own food, tak­ing turns. “Some­times, peo­ple steal the food we cook,” says Yas­meen. It’s dif­fi­cult, for they have to buy grain or flour, some dal, some veg­eta­bles and cook it them­selves. money is a prob­lem. “ear­lier, i could sell iron scrap for ₹25 per kg; now, i only get ₹10. about ₹100 a week, that’s what i earn, as the bread­win­ner for my fam­ily. my son is a labourer, but he works only when he gets work or when he feels like work­ing,” she says. “This eid, i could buy new clothes only for my youngest daugh­ter.

nafeesa says nights are dan­ger­ous: groups of young men barge into the shel­ter and men­ace and ha­rass the girls and mis­be­have with them. “The po­lice re­mains silent,” she says. Sex­ual as­sault is com­mon. “The other day six men gang-raped an eight-year-old girl. no one spoke up for her. We live in con­stant fear.”

She says peo­ple bicker and fight for the small­est of things: fights break out within fam­i­lies and be­tween fam­i­lies. “The other day a man was beat­ing up his wife and no one went to her res­cue, no one said any­thing. Here, peo­ple have gangs. if you say some­thing, they will get to­gether and kill you and no one will ever know.”

among the big­gest or­deals for young women like nafeesa are re­liev­ing them­selves and bathing in pri­vacy. “The toi­lets and bath­rooms are filthy and un­hy­gienic. You sit on the pot, and it shakes. of­ten there is no wa­ter,” she says. “What’s worse, the door latches do not work.” When the women bath or wash them­selves, young men ei­ther peep in­side or bla­tantly shove open the door and stand and stare. nafeesa and some oth­ers pre­fer to go to a pub­lic wash­room in­stead of us­ing the one at the raen basera. They are forced to pay ₹20 ev­ery time they take a bath. “it’s a gov­ern­ment-run wash­room, but they ask us to pay. The man sit­ting there has to be paid. When of­fi­cers come for in­spec­tion, of course, we are al­lowed to use it for free. We have to man­age ev­ery­thing in the ₹100 or so that my mother earns weekly. So we bath once in four days.”

No en­try in hos­pi­tals

in a small street lead­ing to­wards the Nehru Place fly­over, the talk among the chau­rahe wale, as the shop­keep­ers and sweep­ers of the area call the home­less there, is of how Ramu, an eight-year-old boy, died for want of health­care. Raju, a one-legged man with bro­ken teeth, who moves about on a wheel­chair, and Pankaj, an­other man who lives un­der the fly­over, have learnt that the boy had died of dengue.

“Ramu had been beg­ging on the streets while run­ning a high fever for days,” says a man called Hari. “You could say he was forced to do so. For his fa­ther is a drug ad­dict some­where in delhi and his mother sells bal­loons for a liv­ing. He has three sis­ters.” in the man­ner of in­di­gents who fret over small de­tails that don’t par­tic­u­larly make a dif­fer­ence to them, some­one con­tests Hari, say­ing Ramu in fact has four sis­ters. They know well, of course, that the de­tail hardly mat­ters: four sis­ters, three sis­ters; if any or all of them had fallen ill, laid down with dengue or malaria or chikun­gunya or any other ill­ness for that mat­ter, they could well meet the same fate as their brother. in the first place, they might not seek out a hos­pi­tal; and even if they did, they might be shooed away.

The men, women and chil­dren of the Nehru Place fly­over are a ragged bunch. They sleep on con­crete, smoke ganja, in­hale stolen thin­ner or petrol for a high, drink the cheapest liquor they can man­age on a day’s earn­ing, eat what they get, pro­cre­ate, they also con­tract dis­eases – of­ten life-threat­en­ing dis­eases – but get by with­out health­care. like Ramu, most of­ten, they die for want of treat­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Su­nil Ku­mar Ale­dia, the so­cial worker, there were 164 deaths of the home­less re­ported in the cap­i­tal. many of them had died of ill­nesses that went un­treated.

Even chief min­is­ter Arvind Ke­jri­wal has ac­knowl­edged that, quite of­ten, doc­tors at gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals are un­aware that the gov­ern­ment of­fers health­care com­pletely free. ad­dress­ing vol­un­teers of his aam aadmi Party (AAP) dur­ing a monthly in­ter­ac­tion pro­gramme, he told them: “dur­ing a sur­prise in­spec­tion in two gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals, i was shocked to learn that nei­ther doc­tors nor pa­tients were aware about the schemes of delhi gov­ern­ment to pro­vide free health­care. While the gov­ern­ment is mak­ing all ef­forts to pop­u­larise the scheme, vol­un­teers should also in­form peo­ple and help the needy in get­ting treat­ment.”

So­cial work­ers and rights ac­tivists do their bit. Sha­keel ah­mad, an ac­tivist, filed a PIL in Delhi high court in may 2014, seek­ing that the court di­rect the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide ba­sic health­care and ante-natal ben­e­fits to home­less women liv­ing in the Pul mithai area of the old delhi rail­way sta­tion. His ad­vo­cates Reshma Jaf­frey and amiy Shukla told the court that 300 home­less fam­i­lies were be­ing de­nied ac­cess to health­care and wel­fare schemes be­cause they did not have nec­es­sary doc­u­ments to prove that they had been re­sid­ing in the area for over five years. It also pointed out the special needs of preg­nant women and lac­tat­ing moth­ers. But such in­ter­ven­tions are rare, and they do not ad­dress the prob­lems of the home­less in gen­eral.

Even chief min­is­ter Arvind Ke­jri­wal has ac­knowl­edged that, quite of­ten, doc­tors at gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals are un­aware that the gov­ern­ment of­fers free health­care.

At the Nehru Place fly­over, the men re­call that Ramu was one of the most ac­tive kids around. Some­one asks why he was not taken to hos­pi­tal. “Who says he wasn’t?” asks Pankaj. “it was the hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials who did not take him in, see­ing that we are all home­less. i had gone to the hos­pi­tal with my wife and Savita (Ramu’s mother), tak­ing the child along. First they asked us to pay. Then they said there was no space for us. The boy’s con­di­tion wors­ened. He had rashes all over and was shiv­er­ing in the blan­ket we had wrapped him in. We pleaded with the doc­tors. af­ter hours, they did ad­mit him. Prob­a­bly it was too late.” He says the tests said it was dengue but the doc­tors main­tained it was some other dis­ease. no one speaks. Si­lence.


“i got nearly ₹700 that day from beg­ging, for it was the eve of Eid-ul-fitr. It’s the most i have earned from beg­ging,” says meenu, aged 24, mother of three daugh­ters and a son. “The next day, af­ter eid, i had my hus­band buried us­ing most of the money. I was fi­nally at peace.”

She re­calls that the Jama masjid was all lit up, and thou­sands of peo­ple were milling about in fes­tive jol­lity, the men and boys in kur­tas, pa­ja­mas and skull­caps, the women in col­or­ful dresses and fin­ery. The eater­ies, bak­eries and other shops were all do­ing brisk busi­ness, while she went around ask­ing peo­ple to be kind enough to give her some money.

“i’d left my hus­band’s body back home, at a jhuggi that we used to oc­cupy,” she re­calls. “That day peo­ple gave me money all smiles, both young and old. i earned per­haps the most that day, but i was cry­ing within. it was the eas­i­est and yet the most dif­fi­cult earn­ing ever.”

Since her hus­band’s death, she is home­less and has been liv­ing in the raen basera near the Jama masjid. a tall woman, she has some cuts on her hands, and wears a pink and black kurta with a dirty brown stole, all hand­outs. “Some­how, i have to earn at least ₹100 daily, by beg­ging if nec­es­sary,” she says. “af­ter all, i have to feed my four chil­dren. i even wish to send them to school, un­like my hus­band, who was hardly both­ered.”

She says she loved her hus­band through­out the pe­riod of their mar­riage. “He’d work a lit­tle, but most of the time he would be tak­ing drugs. We loved each other, and the ini­tial years were good, but his com­pany led him to drugs. We had our own lit­tle space and lived hap­pily,” she says, cradling her one-year-old in her arms. “Grad­u­ally, i re­alised his drink­ing and drugs were spoil­ing ev­ery­thing. He’d not earn enough to feed us. i fought with him once, and he said he’d think about giv­ing up drink­ing and tak­ing drugs. The sec­ond time we fought, he left home. it was a Thurs­day morn­ing, and he left home at 4 am. i waited all day long, then days turned into weeks. one day, i re­ceived a call from some­one say­ing my hus­band had met with an ac­ci­dent in Kan­pur, his legs were torn, and that i should come to the rail­way sta­tion there to fetch him.”

She left with her son for Kan­pur, and learnt that her hus­band was dead. She does not give the de­tails of how he died or what hap­pened.

“His body was in front of me, i had no money in my pocket,” she says. “i didn’t know any­one who could help me. Some­how, i’d have to take him to delhi so that our daugh­ters could take a last look at him. Be­sides, i had to give him a proper burial.” She asked a truck driver to help her bring the body to delhi and told him she didn’t have any money to pay him. “He said i’d have to give him some­thing at least, for he’d have to bring the body this far,” she says. “i promised him that i’d try to pay him as much as i can when i do have some money.” He was kind enough to agree.

in delhi, eid was in the air. With money from the alms-giv­ing pi­ous, she was able to pay a lit­tle bit to the truck driver and thank him. The rest she used for the burial.

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