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Delhi is freezing but these families have nowhere to go

Last updated on: January 10, 2013 00:50 IST

A chilly night with Delhi's homeless

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Priyanka in New Delhi

Rediff.com's Priyanka reports on the lack of facilities in national capital New Delhi for the homeless that forces hundreds to sleep in the open and brave the biting cold

As the sun sets and the mercury begins to drop, 30-year-old Praveen lays out his sheets in the open and slips inside the blanket he had carried from his home.

A worker in a factory in Peeragarhi in Delhi, Praveen is accompanying his wife to Safdarjung hospital. His wife suffered serious burns and has been admitted for nearly two weeks now. All this while, the family has been sleeping outside the hospital premises.

"We can't find a place in any dharamshala," Praveen begins to explain, "And most relatives of other patients sleep like this only. They (the hospital authorities) will move us from here at 6.30am, as they have to clean the place. Then, we will sit at some other place."

Praveen is just one among the many who have nowhere else to spend the night but outside government hospitals and on railway platforms in the national capital. And even though the climate may have shown some mercy, it still is not a pleasant undertaking.

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Image: The scene outside Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi
Photographs: Priyanka

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The national capital can be a tough place to be in, and more so in winter. Ask Prasanto Banerjee, a 60-year-old priest from West Bengal. "I can't speak Hindi and can only understand it," he says, as he tries to converse, slowly, word by word.

His son, Bhupendra Banerjee, is also being treated at the Safdarjung hospital. "We don't have money."

"All... money... gone... in... ticket... fare," he utters carefully. Banerjee, his wife and his son's wife have been sleeping outside the hospital building for almost 25 days now. They will have to stay for another three weeks, he informs. They buy food from a canteen on the premises and use public toilets.

They stack close to one another at night.

"Of course, we feel very cold," says Praveen, "But we have no choice."

The dharamshala across the Safdarjung hospital is a two-storey building with six rooms -- each home to approximately ten patients.

At last count in the evening, there were 65 patients and their relatives -- a total of about 135 people -- in it.

Most patients here have bone injuries and have been allowed to stay on the doctor's recommendation only. They share a kitchen and toilets on each floor.

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Image: A group of people waiting outside AIIMS hospital, near the metro station
Photographs: Priyanka

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Across the road, India's premier government hospital the All India Institute of Medical Sciences has three dharamshalas for patients.

The AIIMS Vishram Sadan collectively has about 400 rooms and houses approximately 1,200 people. A minimal fee is charged. There are also a couple of large halls which accommodate about 130 people. But the arrangements still fall short. 

A group of people have been spending their last few nights outside the AIIMS out-patient department . But on Tuesday, they were asked to leave .

Patna resident Mujahuddin, whose eight-year daughter is undergoing treatment, was part of this group.

"Many people sleep here outside the OPD," says Mujahuddin, "And sometimes there are easily a few hundred of them. But they have all been asked to leave."

There are still about 20 people huddling on the floor, most them covered with blankets from head to toe.

A young couple clears the sheets and makes a phone call.

"We reached Delhi in the evening and have not been able to meet the doctor. Where else will we sleep? We have to meet the doctor in the morning."

The others have been driven out of the hospital gates.

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Image: The scene outside the burns department at Safdarjung Hospital
Photographs: Priyanka

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A chilly night with Delhi's homeless

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Rajat Mishra, 21, and his mother have also been spending the night in the open.

Rajat was discharged a day ago after undergoing a surgery on his leg. He can barely move it for now. The mother-son duo has had a tough time, adjusting to sleeping outside a metro station and the hospital.

"Back home we sleep with at least two blankets, and look at us here," says his mother Kamlesh, adding that they were driven away from the hospital premises.

"We have no choice but to spend the night like this," she says.

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Image: People sleeping on the floor at the Old Delhi railway station
Photographs: Priyanka

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A chilly night with Delhi's homeless

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The number of those without a shelter is much bigger at the Old Delhi railway station near Red Fort.

The constant announcements tell that most of the trains are delayed, a few cancelled.

At the station, a group of three young girls cuddles close to each other. They missed their last train to the New Delhi railway station, which would take them to their homes.

On their way back from work in a factory, they have no option but to spend the night sitting on the platform.

Another passenger, P N Jha, is waiting for the Shaheed Express to Jaynagar in Bihar, which is running late by almost three hours.

"There is no place for us to take rest; I have to wait here," he says, pulling up his blanket.


Image: People sleeping on the floor at the Old Delhi railway station
Photographs: Priyanka
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