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MUST READ: Shivering and hungry, on the streets of Delhi

Last updated on: January 2, 2012 13:43 IST

Shivering and hungry, on the streets of Delhi

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While most of us huddle in our beds with multiple woollens during the wintry night, there are people struggling to survive on Delhi's bitterly cold streets. A Ganesh Nadar and Priyanka report

New Delhi and old Delhi may well be two different cities in two different eras. While New Delhi, dotted with high-rises, is in the 21st century, Old Delhi still lives in the 19th century.

You don't find people sleeping on the pavement in New Delhi, but it is not an uncommon sight in Old Delhi.

As we take a walk at 10 pm in Old Delhi, a few pavement-dwellers are still awake. The cold and an empty stomach keep them awake.

The winter in Delhi has been harsher this year; temperatures have plummeted to one degree Celsius in the night.

While most people huddle in their beds with multiple sweaters, monkey caps, gloves, mufflers and heaters, there are people out on the streets who have nowhere to go.

According to government figures, 138 people have died so far in this year's cold wave. According to a local NGO, 22 people die every night in the bitter cold. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two numbers.

The homeless people live on the streets during summer, monsoons and winter. In Delhi's bone-chilling winter, they somehow survive and trudge on till one night they freeze to death in their sleep. The municipal corporation removes their body the next day.

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Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Shivering and hungry, on the streets of Delhi

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Ashok has been living on the streets for only a month. He huddles next to another man. "I met him on this footpath and now our souls have united," said Ashok with a smile.

"I came from my village earlier this year as I thought I will earn more here. I joined work as a security guard and everything was fine for six months. But then I lost my job. It is very difficult to find another one. I found another job but they did not pay me. They owe me Rs 3,500 and if they give me that, I will go back to my village," he said.

Ashok is hopeful about another job, which may be finalised on January 7. Till then, he will live and sleep on the streets.

His friend, a mason, has not found any work for the past one month. They survive on a meagre budget but still manage to keep their spirits up.

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Image: Ashok
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com
Tags: Ashok , Delhi

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Shivering and hungry, on the streets of Delhi

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Ratanlal has been living on the streets for two years now. He used to drive an auto-rickshaw once, but had to stop doing so after he fractured his leg in an accident.

For some time he lived in the garage of the rickshaw owner. "He did not tell me to leave. I left on my own. I did not want to be a burden on others," said Ratanlal.

To get by, he helps handcart workers push their cart when it is overloaded. Sometimes, he gets Rs 15 and sometimes he gets Rs 50. 

He carries his bundle of clothes with him and sleeps on a sheet with that bundle nestled under him. In spite of the intense cold, Ratanlal prefers the streets to the government shelters.

"The government shelters are full of drunkards, dopers and drug addicts. They fight with everyone. I am an old man. I am 60 years old. What if they hit me?" he said.

Ratanla, who is from Mathura, has studied up to standard 3. He recollected with pride that during the 1971 Bangladesh war, he had applied as a volunteer and had worked as a cook in the Indian Army for two years.

"I was posted in the north and it was very cold there," he said, adding that he left the army as he could not cope with the cold.

"People respect only money and I do not have any. I do small jobs. I never beg," he declared.

During the monsoons, he buys a plastic sheet to protect himself.

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Image: Ratanlal
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Shivering and hungry, on the streets of Delhi

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Meanwhile, somewhere else, brothers Gopal and Trambak huddle together for warmth on yet another pavement in Delhi. Their clothes are in tatters and they barely have enough to cover their bodies as the wintry temperature of the night settles in.

Till a few years ago the brothers lived in a slum. After the slums were demolished, they were separated from their family. Today, they have no place to go.

"Where else can we go? The government shelters are infested with insects and it is just not possible to sleep there. Only the drunkards can sleep there, because they are too drunk to feel the insect bites," said Gopal.

"The shelter homes get full by early morning and we need to find food in the daytime," added Trambak. He somehow manages to get food from a nearby gurudwara.

Gopal and Trambak earn only Rs 20 to 25 a day by loading and carrying heavy luggage in the city.

"I had tried working in a hotel, washing dishes. But after working for two weeks, the skin on my hands started peeling off," informed Gopal, as he showed his hands.

"And the owner of the hotel never used to pay," he added.

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Image: Gopal and Trambak

Tags: Gopal , Trambak , Delhi

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Shivering and hungry, on the streets of Delhi

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Daulat Ram, 45, has lived and slept on the roadside for as long as he can remember.

"I have been sleeping like this, winter after winter, for decades now," he said.

"This is how my life is and, no, I don't have any family members to take care of me," he added.

He pointed to the bunch of people sleeping on the pavement of a busy road heading into the old Delhi railway station. They were rolled in whatever little pieces of blankets or woollens they had.

Scores of people sleep like this every night during the long winter, said Daulat Ram.

"The nearest shelter homes, a few kilometres away, are all full. It is not possible for all of us to find a place there to sleep. We have no other option," he said.

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Image: Daulat Ram
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/rediff.com

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Shivering and hungry, on the streets of Delhi

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We all dream of doing something special with our lives. We hope that our tomorrow turns out to be better than today.

But these people have no dreams, no plans, no tomorrow. Their concern is only about surviving the stone-cold realities and hardships of today.

'Will I get enough to eat, will I get a place to sleep, and will I be able to survive the night? Will I be alive to see tomorrow morning? Do I want to see the morning sun?'

These may be some of the questions these nowhere people ask themselves as they brace for yet another shivering night on the unforgiving streets of Delhi.

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