In North-West Delhi’s Shakur basti, life came full circle over the weekend at two households, 50 metres from each other.
Around 10 am on Saturday, six-month-old Rukaiyya died as her parents Mohammad Anwar and Safeena Khatoon rushed to save what they could as their home faced demolition by a bulldozer during a drive by the Railways.
That night, around 1.30 am, a girl was born to Manoj and Manisha under another tarpaulin sheet a little ahead.
In this slum of cement workers, Anwar and Manoj are construction workers, daily-wagers earning between Rs 200 to Rs 350 a day. Both have two more children.
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On Monday morning, 25-year-old Safeena was silent, in shock, having sent her other children — a boy and a girl — to her sister’s house to save them from the bitter cold. She looked through the boxes lying about for documents her husband had asked for. Rukaiyya’s birth certificate, their electricity bill, their identity cards. She showed them to whoever asked for them but did not utter a word.
Neighbours claimed she has been like this since the child’s death. “You have two more children, the world hasn’t ended,” one of them told her.
Manisha’s two boys, meanwhile, sat huddled in their tent waiting for their parents to return from hospital with the newborn.
Anwar and Safeena were born in Shakur basti and so were their three children. Their families moved to Delhi seeking employment from Khagaria, Bihar and stayed on until Anwar could fend for himself. “Safeena’s father named Rukaiyya when he came to visit after she was born,” Anwar said.
On the other side of the government tents put up today, Manoj’s neighbours, mostly relatives, kept watch. They said that the families moved here 15 years ago from Jhansi.
They added that Manoj and Manisha had taken their baby to the Bhagwan Mahavir hospital on Sunday, a day after she was born in the tent they lived in. A doctor at the hospital said the child was healthy but the mother’s blood pressure had shot up. Manisha insisted on returning home “but since her BP shot up again she was rushed to the hospital again”.
“I had to hold her down and admit her. She refused to stay back at the hospital. Her BP needed to be stabilised,” said Manisha’s doctor at Mahavir Hospital, Dr Shailaja. In the hospital nursery, the yet-to-named baby has been given her vaccination and is under observation.
Amid the death and the birth, uncertainty binds the two families and others at Shakur basti.
While Anwar narrated the story of his child’s death to one official after the other, Manoj rushed from home to hospital and back. “I want to go back and save whatever is left. If I stay at the hospital, who will take care of my children if the bulldozers come again? Who will keep everything together?” asked Manisha in the labour room.
Anwar says the residents of Shakur basti do not want to leave. “If there was a way for us to leave and go anywhere else, why would we stay here? We cannot rent rooms and feed our families as well,” Anwar said.
It’s time, he said, to start all over again. Like Manoj and Manisha.