At 1 am in West Delhi’s Shakurbasti, Parvati comes out of her makeshift tent and lights a fire. In a few minutes, her neighbours too come out and huddle near the flames. Their children continue to sleep inside the tents. “We cannot sleep as we don’t have enough blankets. But we have made sure that our children sleep well,” said Parvati. Her neighbors nodded in assent.
It is 10 degrees outside in the wee hours of Tuesday. Parvati, her neighbours and several others can be seen sitting around a fire. These people were rendered homeless after the Northern Railways demolished around 500 jhuggis on December 12 to clear encroached land.
Since then, they have been living in makeshift tents and survive on the relief material provided by the Delhi government – food, blankets and tarpaulin.
Many residents – including the women – work as daily-wage labourers, offloading cement from the trains and loading them on to trucks. A few people from the jhuggi have made the open stack of platforms their temporary home. Around 50 families sleep close to each other.
Frequent complaints can be heard about the lack of blankets. A woman says, “People who are at the end of this platform have not received blankets. Many children have fever and are coughing.” A van approaches the camp and a man who claims to be an AAP worker distributes blankets, leading to chaos as many fight over them.
Besides the blankets and the food, the Delhi government has also provided mobile toilets. “We used to relieve ourselves in pits and the bushes across the railway lines. But these toilets are better. We hope they remain,” says Neeta, a resident.
A few metres away, near a heap of rubble, 14-year-old Mehrun Nisha sits coughing. While the cold does not seem to bother her, she is irked by the fact that she had to miss school for the past two days. “I couldn’t give my exams as my books are buried beneath the rubble. I have missed my drawing and Hindi exam,” she exclaims.
She studies in the nearby school. Her mother, Najmun Nisha, looks helpless. “Ab kya karein, bacche ko school bhejein ya apna ghar bachayein.(What should be do now? Should I send my children to school or look for a house now),” she says.