Baby, 60, at odds with what is on offer at shelter

Baby Ayesha, who lives at a night shelter for the homeless behind the Sai Baba Mandir in south Delhi’s Lodhi Road, is furious. While most of the homeless at this shelter are happy to get space to sleep, Baby Ayesha wants more.

The shelter is for everyone, including the elderly like Baby Ayesha. It has a cooler – which hasn’t broken down this season – and people there say that they have no complaints about water and sanitation. The area is good, everybody get a spot to sleep, and the men do not drink and fight like at other night shelters.

Some would say that Baby Ayesha, 60, protests too much. Centre for Holistic Development (CHD), the NGO which runs this Delhi government shelter along with the one adjacent to it, has given her a job cleaning the two shelters, and also put her daughter in a hostel.

But the old woman is not happy with her lot. It’s nearly end of August and July salary hasn’t yet arrived, and she doesn’t know whom to get in touch with on this. And the money, in any case, doesn’t go too far. “I get Rs 4,000 for cleaning every month. It is not enough for my own daily expenses. How am I supposed to pay for my family?”

She says those staying at the shelter have to pay Rs 5 when they use the public toilet. They spend Rs 40 every day on food. Besides the daughter in a hostel, Baby has a son who is a rickshaw puller.

When she came to this shelter two years ago, CHD advised her to not to keep her daughter with her and rather let her study. But the old woman complains that she not allowed days off to visit her family, even during festive occasions like Eid.  “I haven’t met my daughter since Ramzan. I asked the man in charge and he told me I can’t take leave for more than five days. I didn’t take any holiday for Eid this time out of spite,” she says.

She says that after that, she had a tiff with the authorities. After July, they stopped giving her the salary and now are unavailable on phone. She says, “If I don’t get in touch with them, how am I supposed to know about my daughter?”

The woman says that once when she fell ill, she couldn’t get a bed at a government hospital. So she had to go to a private hospital where she spent a lot from her savings. She says she has fights with others at the shelter as they think she is always cribbing about something or the other.

The two Lodhi Road shelters can accommodate up to 25 people each. During the day, the shelters are mostly vacant, but when it’s time to sleep, there is a horde of people wanting to get inside. “Sometimes there are up to 60-65 people at each shelter at night,” says Anju, a younger inmate.

Unlike Baby, Anju is rather happy. She says that people at the shelter fight a lot but they live like a family.  “One day there is a fight about the cooler making the room too cold. Another day there is a fight that it is too hot,” says Anju. She argues that these fights and regular hardships have made the elderly sturdy enough to sustain themselves.

According to her, the elderly fall ill easily when the weather changes. “When old people fall ill it is difficult because they cannot take care of themselves. There is no one at the shelter in the mornings as people go out to work. That is the toughest time to stay alone,” says Anju. Sunil Kumar Aledia from Centre for Holistic Development says they coordinate with the hospital sometimes. But they cannot help all the time.

Shakti Devi, 60, says that she does not care about ‘facilities’. Shakti tells Deccan Herald that her hutment was right in the neighbourhood till 2003, when it was demolished by the authorities. Then the night shelter erected there was made up of tents. She lived there then too. The two night shelters were turned three years ago into plastic-and-tin structures.

Like Baby, this elderly woman too works. “A person should never sit idle,” she says. “I go out in the morning and come back only to sleep. I am not here to make friends or foes.” She says she is used to living without her family. According to her, senior citizens in this night shelter work as much as the others. They have found employment in nearby areas to keep themselves busy.

People should be responsible for themselves, she says, “What is Rs 5 in this age to pay for a toilet”, says Shakti. She goes to a school where she cleans after school hours and then attends to a teacher’s chores. “It’s better than living in an old age-home, where we need to pay to be taken care of,” she says.

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