It’s 7.15 pm on Tuesday and Nisha Devi is adjusting a makeshift tarpaulin tent outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Inside lies her 21-year-old son Ankit Mishra. As he requires a kidney transplant, the family of four has been in the capital for the last one year, making the hospital premises their temporary home.
The three-square-foot tent can give shelter to only one person at a time, leaving Ankit’s family with no shelter in the biting cold. On Monday, the capital witnessed the coldest day in 119 years with the maximum temperature settling at 9.4°C. Despite this, several patients and their relatives spend nights on the roads outside AIIMS and Safdarjung while availing treatment.
Hailing from UP’s Saijanpur, the family had come to Delhi in October 2018. “Majboori hamari hi hai… thand toh bardaasht karni hi padegi. Bete ka ilaaj zaroori hai uske liye hi toh Dilli aaye hain. (We have to be in Delhi for our son’s treatment. We will have to survive the cold, we have no option),” said Devi, as she covered her head with a thin cloth shawl.
Last winter, the family moved to a shelter home in Kotla. But Ankit’s health deteriorated as the shelter was too crowded. This year, they created a space on the footpath. The family sits under a tree inside the institute in the morning and comes back to the tent at night.
A few feet away, huddled in a blanket, sat Khurjahan Noor and her 16-year-old son. They have been living outside the institute for the last three weeks. Her son, Muntiyaz Ali, is diagnosed with a nervous blockage in his hands and legs and is unable to move.
With no funds and the urgency for treatment, the mother-son duo have no other option but to sleep on the footpath.
In these three weeks, they have spent only three nights under a roof. “Guards se request karke teen raat andar so gaye the… subah uthte hi metro station wali sadak par rehte hain… (For three days, we requested the guards to allow us to sleep inside. Other days are spent by living on the footpath),” said Noor.
Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board runs eight homeless shelters, one in a porta cabin and seven in tents, around AIIMS. At the biggest, whose capacity is 325, around 239 people slept inside on Monday night. The other seven have a combined capacity of 350, while the occupancy at night was 329.
Unable to bear the cold, many are planning to return home. “The doctor has given us a date for next Saturday. We are returning to our home in Bulandshahar tonight as we can’t bear the cold. We will come back again next week. We have been on the footpath for the last eight days, we don’t how long we will be able to survive like this,” said Ajit Kumar Gupta (20).
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