Kamal Rawat, 68, (name changed) sits next to a group of people on a footpath. In impeccable English, he says, “I used to love suspense novels.” Why the past tense, you ask.
Rawat is a well-read man and loves books. But despite his knowledge and degrees, he is homeless. This retired government employee was thrown out of his Kalkaji home a year back by his two sons and has been living on the streets ever since.
“I had thought my children will take care of me but that did not happen. They left me on the streets and I did not go back to be humiliated again,” he said.
Among the estimated 1,60,000 homeless people on the capital’s streets are a handful of educated people as well.
“Some of them have been turned out by their families; some have run away from home while others are a little mentally unsound and don’t remember where they came from. But each year we find one or two educated people who have homes somewhere in the country living on the streets of Delhi,” says Navneet Singh, member Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), an NGO working with the homeless.
A couple of years back, the AAA had come across a middle-aged businessman from Ludhiana who had been living on the streets around Fatehpuri.
“He was frustrated with the corruption in the system. He went into depression and left home,” said Singh.
The businessman stayed at the Fatehpuri night shelter for three months like a homeless and after repeated attempts and much cajoling, he revealed that he was from Ludhiana. When his family was located, it was found that he was very well to do and his wife was the principal of a private school.
“He was finding it difficult to adjust to the change but did not want to return either,” said Singh.
For those who are used to the comforts of living in a home, life on the streets is a like a slap in the face; difficult to adjust to and more challenging.
Adjusting to community living under the open sky with people that are not from the same background is a big problem with many ending up as loners. Most of such homeless people HT spoke to refused to give their names or be photographed.
Satish, 44, (name changed) is one such man. He left his home in Madhya Pradesh after his marriage broke up. The former electrician came to Delhi five years back and has been living outside the Sai Baba Temple, Lodhi Road, since then.
Satish has not formed any ties since he started living on the streets. He does not interact with anyone.
“When he had come here, he used to abuse us and call us illiterates so we never spoke to him. He has become very silent over the last two years and keeps to himself,” said Shanti, a disabled homeless who also lives outside the temple.
NGOs running shelters in various parts of the city have seen another emerging trend — that of children leaving their ailing parents at the shelters.
“We saw one such case in Kalkaji where a man left his 70-year-old mother outside the shelter thinking we would take her in. When we complained to the police, the son came to pick her up. But he may have left her at some other shelter. This shelter is a temporary one. What will happen to that old woman once the tents are taken away?” Singh says.
Many of the educated people were forced to leave home owing to adverse circumstances at home. While some have found peace in the simple life, many have failed.