Braving the cold waves of life

Residents of Sarai Kale Khan shelter home recount their stories of birth and death

The streetlights pierced through the fog, creating an envelope of yellow light around the Sarai Kale Khan  bus stop at 3 am on December 13. Lakshmi was in labour, surrounded by a small group of women helping her.  As cars passed by, she delivered her baby on the footpath.

  The 25-year-old recalls that night to Deccan Herald. She had to bear of brunt of the cold wave as the other homeless people staying with her at the Sarai Kale Khan shelter home were adamant that Lakshmi won’t deliver her baby inside the tin-shed camp.

For them, their comfort was more important than the two lives battling for survival on a chilly night.

“They didn't allow me to enter,” says Lakshmi. “They said the camp will get dirty. For them, cleanliness was more important,” she says with a sarcastic smile on her face.
“But I am happy that the baby is fine,” she looks at Krishna, wrapped in a shawl, sleeping and soaking in the sun.

 Krishna is Lakshmi’s fourth child. She has been living at Sarai Kale Khan for more than a year now along with her husband, parents and kids.

Homeless since childhood, Lakshmi has spent all her life under flyovers.
“We belong to Lucknow and my parents came to Delhi when I was just a child. I don’t remember exactly how old I was. Initially we used to stay under Modi Mill flyover.  We were evicted from there and shifted to Sarai Kale Khan flyover.

From there, we got a place in this shelter home with the help of NGOs,” she says.
Today, she is one amongst those 30 homeless people who are staying at the shelter home. Lakshmi says she only look after her kids and denies begging at traffic lights ever.  
“Though we had no house, I have never begged at traffic light for money. People don’t also give us job. Padhe likhe logon ko to naukri milti nahi hai, hume kya milegi? (Literate people don’t find jobs, then how can we?),” she laments.

“My father used to sell honey and toys,” she continues. “Now, he is not working. The entire family is dependent upon my husband.”

Lakshmi’s husband, Bhola, is a daily wage worker who earns Rs 300 to 400 per day by selling toys on streets, pulling rickshaws and occasionally playing dhols at weddings.

But Lakshmi is not happy with Bhola. “He is not what he used to be eight years ago when we got married. He was sincere and used to work. Things could have improved with time. He doesn’t work anymore,” she says with a disheartened look.
She met Bhola eight years ago. They both fell in love and married.

Bhola is an orphan. He too has spent his life in slums doing all kind of chores from carrying heavy bottles of distilled water from one place to another to being a conductor in a private bus.

“I used to get Rs 6,000 when I supplied water in Narela. But it was not an easy job so I left it. When private Blueline buses were banned, I lost my job. Since then we are staying under a flyover because we don’t have enough money to pay rent in slum areas,” says Bhola, who is not sure how long he will remain at the shelter home or stay under flyovers – and if his kids also be homeless like him.

Another Lakshmi
While Lakhsmi gave birth to Krishna, another homeless family at the same shelter home lost their eight year old daughter Lakshmi in a road accident this month.

Hailing from Madhubani in Bihar, Ram Sugharat Rao came to the city almost 10-12 years ago with his wife Savita. After spending all these years in Badarpur slums, they came to the Sarai Kale Khan shelter a few months ago after being evicted.

“We won’t stay here anymore,” says Savita. “We will go back to our village. After the death of my daughter I don’t feel like staying here anymore. It is suffocating. My husband has lost his eyesight so he cannot even work. We don’t have anything to eat and are dependent on what people and the NGOs give us. We have nothing in life to lookforward to.” 

With tears in her eyes Savita looks at her five-year-old son Lakhan while she feeds year-old Radhika.
Rao, sitting beside her, has only dead hope in his eyes.

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