Report By: Nina Rai
New Delhi, Jan. 03, 2013
With Delhi in the grip of biting cold wave on Wednesday, the worst in 44 years, there are many heart-rending tales of people living in subhuman conditions on the pavements of the Indian capital, something sure to jolt most of us out of our apparent reverie.
Particularly distressing is the tale of one 6-year-old blind patient battling cancer who has been forced to sleep in a public toilet outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The little boy and his father hail from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh (UP).
They have been coming to AIIMS for the past three years, since treatment at the hospital is heavily subsidized. Despite all medical efforts, the child lost vision in both of his eyes due to cancer. Since he could not afford a bed in AIIMS, he is forced to endure the bone-chilling cold inside a public toilet with his father.
Just across the road from AIIMS, there is a government run shelter with 400 beds for poor and needy out-of-town patients. But it is over-flowing and unhygienic, too. Meanwhile, the road outside is scattered with shivering, sick people who have no option but to stay put for treatment.
There are many harrowing tales of families suffering due to the chilly weather, with temperatures dipping drastically in Delhi. There is another father-son duo, Girish and Chandan, hailing from Bihar. Chandan, 12, was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer about five months back.
The pre-teen sleeps with his father outside AIIMS hospital in the biting cold weather. The duo is forced to do so in between appointments for chemotherapy at the hospital, as they have nowhere else to stay in the capital. Girish says in the beginning he did try to rent a room close-by at an affordable rate. However, without any income, soon even that option became untenable.
When Girish was asked by the media why he was not inside the night shelters provided by the government, he said the place is so congested and unhygienic that he and his son prefer to sleep outside every night. According to him, it has been a month since they have come to Delhi for treatment, and he does not know how many more days they will have to stay back.
Around 20 homeless persons, shivering in the biting night cold, take shelter every night in the local public toilets. They are so helpless that they even cook their food in such filthy conditions, then go off to sleep there. Majority of those from UP and Bihar get their relatives treated at AIIMS, which is one of India’s biggest hospitals.
According to the Urban Development Ministry, Delhi city has 84 temporary shelters and 66 permanent shelters for the homeless people, which can accommodate around 13,600 pavement dwellers. With the number of night shelters arranged for the homeless by the government being only 150, it is no wonder they are already filled to capacity.
Even the desperate families of patients outside the AIIMS don’t want to have anything to do with those shelters, which, they complain, are not only over-crowded but filthy and unhygienic. They say they would rather stay on the pavements or the public toilets, braving the extreme weather conditions outside rather than use the government shelters.
What is really deplorable is that when the media last year reported that public toilets were being used as a shelter by homeless patients and their relatives, instead of empathizing with their plight, the police evicted them out of such places. But with the poor souls having nowhere else to go, and Delhi continuing to shiver under extreme climatic conditions, circumstances have forced the homeless to once again take shelter in public toilets.