A dozen coats lie neatly arranged in one corner; utensils, a sofa and a refrigerator occupy another. A cramped switchboard has mobile phones and electric lamps taking up all five sockets. Huddled together, three youths attentively listen to radio commentary of the ongoing India-South Africa Test match, but not loud enough to wake up some others, who are sleeping after returning from college.
A month after a hostel for the visually impaired in Janakpuri’s Virender Nagar was demolished by the Delhi Development Authority, a fifth of its occupants have left for home. About 20 have stayed behind, trying to piece together a life out of the rubble.
As first reported by The Indian Express, the hostel, Louis Welfare Progressive Association of the Blind, had been running for the last 17 years when it was demolished on December 15. Most of the occupants were students of Delhi University or the nearby Sarvodaya Vidyalayas.
A month on, Kamlesh Kumar, the hostel’s caretaker, sits on a sofa at the entrance of a tent, talking to Benjamin Rai, who once lived in the hostel but now works as an administrator in a church in Darjeeling. “It is all up to the court now,” Kumar says as Benjamin, in Delhi to meet the occupants after hearing about the demolition, nods in agreement. Incidentally, the High Court Monday said the occupants must move.
Since the demolition, occupants have been living in a makeshift tent, erected at the same spot with the help of the sub-divisional magistrate.
While most have managed to sort their belongings, and the SDM providing them food, a shadow of uncertainty looms. Most don’t want to shift to a community hall nearby — as proposed by the DDA — and want to continue staying together. “About five students left for home. Some kept falling sick, while others faced trouble moving around because of the rubble,” says Kumar.
Rohit Rana, an occupant, says one of his friends, Dharmendra Kumar, left for Firozabad. “He had constant eye pain and was referred to AIIMS. But his relatives decided to take him back, thinking his condition could deteriorate here,” he says.
Dev Narayan, another occupant, says, “I was down with fever for 15 days. The others have perpetual cough and cold. They call us specially abled, but we have been completely neglected.” Most occupants say they want to stay together because they have a “special bond” and are “interdependent”. Neeraj Batra, an occupant, says with time, visits by mediapersons and politicians dwindled. “The only people who come now, after every three-four days, are DDA officials asking us to vacate the place.”
“The hostel used to be a perfect place to get guidance from seniors on jobs for the blind. I am now thinking of going back to my hometown of Bhiwani. Here, I can’t even charge my gadgets; the sockets are always full. Most of us can’t study. The whole day goes in trying to meet basic needs like taking a bath or going to the bathroom,” he rues.