Anjali's mom died last night. She died as unobtrusively as she lived. She died in a hospital bed, her daughter by her side.
Dorothy came into our lives nine years ago, when we began our work in the Giri Nagar slums. A diminutive and withdrawn woman, her story was one that would move anyone willing to hear it and yet one shared by so many women. She came to Delhi from her tribal village in search of much needed work. She was lucky to get employment in a good home where she worked for some years. Her employer, a kind hearted old lady, passed away and left her some money. That was enough to set predators prowling. She was lured by an already married man who offered her what every woman seeks and fell in the trap. The man 'married' her and impregnated her with a child. The child, young Anjali was born with a mental and physical handicap. Needless to say, after after having used and abused her and spent all her money, he left her high and dry.
Dorothy began to clean homes, her little girl sitting by her side and slowly picked up the threads of her shattered life. It was not easy, but the brave woman did not give up. However with Anjali growing up, it was not easy to get work. When she came to work for us we were just beginning and had no special section, so we got Anjali admitted to a residential centre where she spent a year. When we opened our day care for special kids, Anjali was back with her mom.
The mom worked in the day in a private house and mother and daughter lived together in the tiny hovel that was there home. Life was not perfect but it was held together by the love of two desperate souls.
Dorothy was in poor health and we were concerned about Anjali's future. We knew that if anything was to happen to her, Anjali would be left alone and prey to all kind of predators in search of fresh blood. When we began our foster care last year we tried to convince Dorothy to send her daughter but is was not easy come. Perhaps they each needed each other too much and were not ready to be separated. We were worried about Anjali now a young woman as she spent many hours alone in her slum. We did not give up and a few months back Anjali came to live at our foster care. Mother and daughter still spent their week ends together.
Dorothy's health started worsening and she was unable to work. We gave her a small job at our women centre and tried to convince her to come and live with us. She refused as she wanted to hold on to her small jhuggi in the slum, one she had bought with great difficulty and which was her only possession in the whole world. Some time back she became very sick, her frail and worn out body swelling beyond recognition. Anjali left the foster care to look after her mom and it was heart wrenching to see her tend to the one who gave her life, albeit an imperfect one, with love and tenderness. Last week Dorothy was admitted to hospital and again it was Anjali who was at her side 24/7. She breathed her last on Sunday morning. A tragic life had come to an end. I only hope that in her last moments she remembered our pledge to look after her daughter and tied in peace.
Dorothy's life brings many questions to mind and highlights the plight of many women in India today. Force to flee the safety of their homes in search of work they land in the cruel world of urban slums. Danger lurks at every corner. If they escape being sold into the flesh trade, sometimes simply because they are unattractive, they may land into the clutches of an abusive employer. If like Dorothy they are lucky enough to find a good job, they are in no way saved; they have just bought themselves some time. In Dorothy's case her ruin lay in the money that came her way. Predators are patient and crafty. Had her child been a boy or at least normal, she may still have had a chance but with a disabled girl child her death knell was sounded. It was just a matter of time. I could go on listing the pitfalls of Dorothy's tragic life. They are simply endless.
Anjali's mom was lucky in as much as she came into our lives and secured a safe morrow for her child. But I cannot even begin to imagine what could have happened to Anjali had we not be there. You see just as her mom had some money left to her by her employer, Anjali has the tiny hovel that her mother bought and that now belongs to her. A prize possession in a city where housing is a huge problem. The little jhuggi she possesses may be illegal but they have the papers and token that ensure that were it to be raised, they would get 12,5 square meters of land somewhere in the city. By tomorrow morning a new set of predators in the garb of grieving relatives will surely be at the child's door step, crocodile tears in place. I just hope that we will be able to get Anjali away in time.
I am often asked why I stubbornly hold on to my planet why dream in spite of the fact that huge amounts need to be raised, no mean task in our day and age. True that one of the main factors I often cite is that of long term sustainability but the real reasons for planet why are much deeper. The very instant we agreed to have a day care for special children, we had taken an irreversible step: we became responsible for the lives of these children forever, particularly for those like Anjali who we knew had no one after the demise of their parents. For me personally it was impossible to think of the day where we closed this section and left the children in a lurch. Everything one believed in and held as true would come to naught. The unexpected demise of Anjali's mom has just made my resolve to see planet why happen stronger.