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Living a half life amid the rich and powerful

25 years on, little has changed for the residents of this leprosy colony in posh New Delhi constituency, reports Sidhartha Roy.

delhi Updated: Apr 30, 2009 02:11 IST
Sidhartha Roy

A blue board announcing the name of the colony is the only thing common between Nivedita Kunj, a posh South Delhi colony, and Jeevan Deep Kustha Ashram, a colony of leprosy patients, that lie on either side of the RK Puram drain.

Flanked by apartments that house retired bureaucrats and opposite the Mohan Singh Electronics Market, Jeevan Deep Kustha Ashram has about 70 shanties housing leprosy patients and their families. The colony is such a contrast to the rest of the area that it is hard to believe it is part of India’s one of the most affluent parliamentary constituencies — New Delhi.

In usual days, not many visit this place, but then election times are different.

“Some leaders made rounds of the colony recently asking for our votes. We wouldn’t see them for the next five years,” said Kundusao, a leprosy patient. “I would go and vote but I know they would give us nothing in return,” he said.

The ashram came up in a narrow strip of land near the drain 25 years ago.

Tiny plots were given to leprosy patients to build houses. They came from Karnataka and settled here.

“The government has done nothing for us. These tiny houses were built through charity money donated by religious organisations,” said Basappa, who came to Delhi from Gulbarga 20 years ago.

The poll issue here is not just water and power — it’s the desire to be a part of the mainstream. People are no longer not afraid of them, but they still are far from having a normal life. “The government doesn’t give us enough jobs and private companies don't want to employ us. We have no option but to beg,” Basappa said.

A slum begins and extends for a kilometer where the ashram ends. Rajinder Kumar Bhatia, who lives in the slum, said the ashram’s residents were still better off.

“At least the politicians visit the ashram once in five years. No one even looks at our shanties,” he said. Nearly one thousand people live in this slum that runs along the drain and extends till the Ring Road.

“The leaders distribute blankets there and charity organisations chip in with medicines but no one cares that we too live in sub-human conditions,” said Bhatia, an ambulance driver. There is no bridge to cross the drain and there is a wall on the other end.

“The water we drink is not even suitable for washing clothes. There are mosquitoes and children fall sick frequently,” said Surender, who rears pigs.

Both Bhatia and Surender vote religiously like their ashram neighbour Basappa.

“The politicians let us live here because they know we vote for them. We don’t want plots in the border areas because we all work here,” said Mukesh, another slum dweller.