Music to my ears

Today's news was music to my ears. The new Government in Delhi which has been in place for just a couple of days has done something that I had always hoped and prayed a Government with a conscience should and would do. The news I talking about refers to the homeless: Delhi government today announced a series of measures to provide roof to the homeless in biting cold sweeping the city and decided to replace all night shelters being run from plastic tents with porta cabins. We who sit in the comfort of our homes, with electric blankets, warm quilts and blowers cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to sleep under the stars in the bitter cold with just a tattered blanket to cover you. We cannot begin to imagine how the conditions in which the poor live and how the manage to survive. I have often wondered why our collective conscience does not get outraged when we see families with tiny children living under flyovers. To us they are just irritants and pests as they dare bother our comfortable ride in a heated car and disturb our thoughts which could be about the new sweater we are off to purchase. I have also wondered why the rulers and administrators of our city, irrespective of their political hue or bureaucratic responsibility do not shudder when they see children who according to existing laws should be in school, knock at their car window begging for a coin. Just like every one, they too ignore them or scare them away with a glare.

Many do not know, but it is not just beggars who live on the streets. My first encounter with such people was way back in 2001 or so when I first saw the Lohar (gypsy) camp next to the Kalkaji bus depot. This is a nomadic blacksmith community that settled in various part of the city. The one I am talking about is a settlement of 30 odd families that have lived on this pavement for more than 30 years. Thanks to wily politicians they got a postal address, voter identity cards and ration cards. As I got to know this proud and dignified clan, I found myself drawn to their wisdom and philosophy and spent many hours taking to Tau, the leader of the said clan. I heard their story, the promises they were made that remained unfulfilled. I heard how their camps were razed with obsessive regularity and how they had to line pockets to be allowed to build their homes again. It was almost a cat and mouse game. I was horrified to hear that they had been visited by several politicians and petty officials and promised rehabilitation as they came under the nomadic tribes.

I saw the bits and parcels of documents that had survived the many razing and decided to do something. These were early days when I was still naive and had yet not lost my faith in the system. I decided to approach the NHCR ( National Human Rights Commission) hoping that they would do something. I was sent an answer saying that the Commission had asked for an Action Taken Report. Nothing happened after that.

I was thrilled to learn that the SDMs have been asked to prepare a list of all homeless in 2 days. talking of SDMs I too have my story to tell. I was told one day that there would be a demolition of the camp on the next day. I tried to contact the Chief Minister as I knew someone in her office. Could not. Then remembering that we still suffered from the British raj syndrome I called my friend who was the British High Commissioner's wife and asked her to intervene. You guessed right. It worked. Well in a manner. The next day we got visitated by the SDM who diligently heard our plight and story, took notes on a green pad and left. Must have thrown the papers on the way. So much for approaching the higher ups.

One day I witnessed yet another demolition and it was heart breaking. And knowing that this happened again and again was unbearable. I decided to file a PIL in the High Court, as that was the last door to knock at, in the name of these beautiful children condemned to live in inhuman conditions. But to no avail. The case is lost in translation.

Sadly no cat and mouse game is endless. The cat ultimately wins and courtesy the Commonwealth Games the final razing happened in 2010.The day I had always dreaded did dawn. I know deep in my heart that my Lohar friends are survivors and must be well. It is I who miss them so!

The reason I recounted this story was to tell you about the reality of this city. I could fill pages describing how the poor live and survive. This city has done nothing for the habitat of the poor. I hope this new Government does something not only for the homeless but also for the slum dwellers who have found their ways and survive with dignity and a smile.

Here are some pictures of how people in this city, the ones that often make our lives better, live:

And I told you that a little girl with brittle bone disease lived for many years in this house below, would you believe me?

They are a family of 6 and had to crawl into their home. Don't forget that any child with Osteogenis Imperfecta, breaks a bone at the lightest touch. Radha must have had more than 50 fractures ion her life.

I hope and pray that the new government addresses the terrible plight of people living in this city and gives priority to the basic right of shelter to these citizens of Delhi.