Prem Kumar, 76, is a disciplined man. He wakes up at 7 am each morning, goes out for a short walk, reads newspapers and visits the nearby library regularly — normal for a retired government employee.
He stands apart because he follows this routine from a homeless shelter near Connaught Place. Kumar retired from the Union tourism ministry as an officer, is soft-spoken, though easily irritated. He greets visitors to the shelter in English.
While Delhi’s homeless population mostly comprises uneducated, unskilled people and addicts, there is an increasing number of educated, English-speaking destitute people who have either been abandoned by their families or are unemployed.
Kumar left home nearly a year ago after a fight with his wife and children.
“My wife runs a school in Delhi and my children are well-settled. I left home when they spoke to me rudely and they never looked for me. I have been here since and have learned to accept things. I don’t want to interact with them anymore,” says Kumar, who did not reveal his full name because he doesn’t want to be discovered.
He is not alone. In a shelter nearby, lives 28-year-old Mahesh Singh (name changed) who speaks impeccable English and is polite. “Since you are here, I wanted to raise the issue of inadequate blankets,” he says.
“A person gets thin blankets here. When it gets colder, it is very difficult to manage in these. Is there any way we can get more blankets?” he asks.
Singh has been in Delhi for seven years and does odd jobs with courier companies.
“I am a graduate and fell upon bad times. Unemployment and a series of unfortunate events landed me here,” says Singh who came to Delhi from Kanpur and refused to divulge any more details for fear of losing his job.
The Chandni Chowk homeless shelter is home to an ex-army man who was forced to leave home by his children. His pension is claimed by his family members and he is forced to live in a shelter.
According to experts who work with the homeless, there are a large number of educated people living either in shelters or on the streets. Most of them have been abandoned by their families while some fell prey to addiction.