A woman begs outside a Delhi temple to pay her twelve year debt. Another begs to save money and return home. They travel hundreds of kilometers only to beg.
At old age, they beg to run families
In Delhi’s shelter number 177, homeless women come from as far as four-hundred kilometers away – to beg and provide for their families. Every Monday morning, 454 kilometers away from Delhi, in Sitapur, western Uttar Pradesh, Pammi Devi,68, boards the Satyagraha Express train.
She gets down at the Old Delhi railway station and rides a bus to Chandni Chowk, Hanuman temple. She doesn’t go inside. Instead, she checks into the shelter 177 - adjacent to the temple - with other 30 women who have come from villages of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.
The shelter is one of the 197 night shelters of the Delhi government. Inside, Pammi Devi is a known face. Tuesdays and Saturdays are days when Pammi Devi and her friends make anywhere between Rs 300-600 begging.
“Women from places such as Mathura, Fatehpur and Sambhal come here. On some Tuesdays some earn more than a thousand. Most devotees visit the temple on Tuesday,” Geeta, a caretaker at the shelter, said.
“At around midnight when they return, sometimes there is no space to keep the gifts they get. Food, biscuits, juice packs are most common."
Usually 20 women check in every night with their kids, but this Tuesday there are 46. Staying the night is free. They can stay here for as many nights as they want.
“Food is not a problem here. In Delhi there are enough good souls, who offer food to the homeless every day,” caretaker Geeta says.
PAMMI DEVI’s FRIEND
Unpacking her bag next to Pammi Devi is Geeta Devi. Geeta has been living in shelters for 32 years. She does not remember her age - perhaps in her 70s. She remembers the morning she came to Delhi. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. She had left her home in Malda, West Bengal because her children ill-treated her after her husband’s death.
Pammi has a hand-stitched pouch tied around her neck and hidden beneath her blouse. She opens it, removes a packet containing tiny green balls – medicine prescribed by a village doctor. Next, she takes out a small pouch of coconut oil, which keeps her head cool in summer she says.
Then she starts counts her earnings. She has 57 one-rupee coins. A few two-rupee coins, too. The total is seventy-two rupees. Next, she adds the crumpled folded ten-rupee notes, which add to Rs 280.
“Half of the money earned today will be used in paying the interest on the loan. It was not a good day today. I will stay another week. My husband will be worried if I don’t return home, but I am sure he will understand.”
WITHOUT A HOME BUT HOPES OF A BETTER TOMORROW
They are without a roof on their head but are hopeful of a brighter tomorrow. For 18 years, Ramu, originally from Patna lived on the roads, shelters and parks in Delhi without a name. Today he carries a voter identity card. In 2014, he voted for the first time in his life. He has a savings account in the Bank of India and sends money to his family once a while.
“Not all homeless are drug-addicts or criminals. There is a misconception,” Ramu says, while sweeping the garden outside shelter home in Yamuna Bazar. “My friends in the shelter are my family now. I take job of sweeper here voluntarily so that our home is clean.”
Nishu Tripathi, a social worker who manages shelters and rescues the homeless said that over 500 homeless men now have voter identity and Aadhar cards. “We have a tie up with banks because of which most of them have bank accounts. Earlier, they deposited money with local shopkeepers, who maintained records and sometimes duped them but now they have ATM cards. Our aim is to get all of them registered and not to make them feel neglected,” said Tripathi.
Tripathi said there are over 3000 homeless voters in Yamuna Bazar and ISBT alone. “We do not allow them to be alone during festivals or important days. This Independence Day, the homeless at our shelters celebrated and performed on stage. They planned the whole programme. They should be integrated into the society.”
City NGOs believe that around 70 percent of the homeless are workers and have day jobs so they prefer to call them the city makers. “They cannot afford to a room so they stay at shelters. They are labourers, rickshaw puller and people who run the city so we call them city makers,” Amod Kanth, founder of NGO Prayas said.
Prayas runs 29 night shelters in the city.
Kanth said that from next week, homeless at two shelters - Dandi park and Chabi Ganj would be trained. “Our NGO with Department of Technical Education will help the men get plumbing and electrical skills. It was discussed in meeting today. They will get certificates from Industrial Training Institute, which will help them get jobs. Gradually, it will then be done at our 10 centres.”
Kanth said that compared to other cities such as Mumbai and Chennai, Delhi’s homeless are cared for. “We hold health camps for our residents. They will not be neglected. We even have a home to take care of the homeless who are disabled or suffer from tuberculosis.”
Meanwhile at a women’s shelter in Regarpura, homeless women are training in stitching. Sanjay Kumar, Executive Director of Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan said, “At the shelters, we hold Panchayats ,where the homeless get to choose on what they want at the shelters. We listen to their problems, their demands and think of a solution together. Doing this makes them a part of the society,” he said.