One night at a shelter in east Delhi

One night at a shelter in east Delhi

A night shelter in the Akshardham temple area in east Delhi is packed like sardines. DH PHOTO

Erected on a pavement opposite the flyover near the Akshardham temple in east Delhi is a single tent, the only ‘abode’ for people who have no place go in the silent and cold nights in the area.

Tightly packed from all sides and dotted with holes to allow passage of air, the tent was a better and only option for the homeless to avoid dying on the streets in the inhospitable weather.

People at the shelter expected nothing but a place to rest for the night. The three bulbs in the tent shed dim light. Some of the occupants slept blissfully, huddled together for some warmth. Beds were arranged in two long rows with space in between for them to walk. Fumes from mosquito repellents hung in the air. I walked inside the tent and woke up the caretaker who was fast asleep, wrapped in a quilt.

“What happened? Who are you and what do you want,” asked the caretaker who was obviously taken aback at the untimely knock.

When I asked for a bed to spend the night, he indicated to me to sign in the register.“We have to maintain records to show to our bosses. Go and find a place for yourself,” he said.
Standing between two rows of beds, I saw around 26 people on one side and 25 on other.

Some had covered themselves with thin blankets provided by the caretaker, while others used their own torn shawls. The blankets were small, hardly enough to cover a person.

I found a place where I could slip in. But there was no blanket even with holes. I had to wake up the caretaker again for a pillow and a blanket. “There is no blanket... no pillow.

Go and sleep,” he said. I begged him several times, but he was reluctant. “Don't create a ruckus here. If you don’t want to sleep, leave the place, or I will throw you out,” he shouted.

Hearing the holler, a man sleeping close by called me and offered me a shawl he was using as his pillow. It seemed like a luxury in the deprived place to use a shawl as pillow. “Take this and sleep quietly,” said my neighbour, who identified himself as Suresh, a rickshaw-puller.

Suresh explained that they had a few blankets which had been recently distributed. When asked how people could sleep without blankets in such extreme cold, he said, “At least, we save ourselves from cold winds. We have no place and getting a bed is just fine for us.”

Wrapping the shawl, I lied down. Throughout the night I kept shivering like others, but sleep eluded me even as others, immune to extremely cold weather conditions, snored away. It was around 5 in the morning that people started waking up. I asked for a complaint book to register my grievances. The caretaker grabbed me and threw me out, laughing and mocking at me: “This man wants a complaint book, eh!” I left the place for home wondering where would others go.

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