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The Plight of A Street Dweller April 9, 2009

Posted by linta in BBC.

She spoke a language which was unfamiliar to me (well, actually not only me, most people were unable to understand her) when she reached our village three years ago. She was above 70. A soiled, dull white sari was wrapped around her slender body. It was the milkmaid who noticed her for the first time, lying on the medical store veranda, in a cold December morning. Gradually, she had become an inevitable part of our little town. Often she was scolded either by bus conductors for standing in the middle of the road or by the milk shop owner who didn’t want his customers to be annoyed due to her presence. The wide smile that shows all of her remaining half-broken teeth, stained by beetle leaves, was the reply that both the conductors and the shop owner used to get. It was almost 3 months after her arrival in the town that we came to realize that she spoke Tulu, a language which exists in some parts of India. A high school teacher, who works in Kasargodu, happened to see her when he came home to spend the summer vacation and though he was unable to understand her dialect, he could recognize the language she spoke. It was he who affirmed that she was speaking Tulu.

Time passed by. Nobody ever understood anything about her other than her name* and that she spoke Tulu. At last, in January 2009, a man who lives in Mangalore, came back home which was in our place and he could know something more about her life. After listening to her, he concluded that she had been a flood victim though he didn’t know where she came from. She kept on saying that she had been living in a village where there were lots of paddy fields, before the flood hit the place and she along with hundreds of others was left as destitute. The rest of the story was even more distressing. She remembered someone pushing her out of the compartment of a train, which had already started moving. She had crawled through that railway platform for days, begging food from the passengers who passed her without even noticing the held out hand. Later, she remembered travelling through trains and buses, and finally falling down on the medical shop veranda from the last bus she travelled-it wasn’t an accident. The conductor pushed her down through the door. She didn’t have any complaint. After all, it was her fault; nobody will offer you a free journey.

By the time we knew her story, she had found a shelter in a building which was in the phase of construction. When they finished laying tiles and marbles along the side walls and the already concreted roof, she had to find another place to sleep and keep her belongings which included a torn cloth bag and a cylinder shaped stone to crush ariconut with beetle leaves. She never cooked anything. Somebody was there to give her food every day and if nobody had remembered to do so, she would have gone to sleep, starving. And the place she found at last was the government office veranda. In March, when I came here, she was thrown away from the Panchayat office.

Recently, when my Mom called me, I asked about her. Thus, I came to know that she had been taken to an old age home, and after that nobody has ever seen her. It is not only her story. Along the streets of India, hundreds of people live without any assistance. In a country where family relationships are often considered as divine and sacred, old people are thrown out from their homes. It is a truth that the development of India as a country is impossible with these homeless, helpless people. This is a truth that stares into the eyes of Indian policy makers with bared teeth.

* She called herself Radha.