On the road outside a shelter home. (Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)
It’s 12.30 am on Friday and Shehzad, a rickshaw puller, huddles around a fire with five others outside the Yamuna Pushta government shelter home in Kashmere Gate. “We have been told there is a lockdown because of a disease. I am not educated enough but I know it’s dangerous and it spreads through contact. But there is not much I can do because we have nowhere to go and have to come here for food. We are at god's mercy,” he said, getting closer to the fire as the mercury dipped.
At this DUSIB shelter home near Nigambodh Ghat, scores of people sleep outside two cabins. One cabin can house around 50 people, but tonight, staff said, at least 5,000 people had sought shelter. For those sleeping inside the cabin, mattresses were provided.
“We do our best to tell people that they should maintain some distance from each other. But there are logistical problems. If we begin spacing the beds, then fewer people will get to sleep inside. Even those sleeping outside have placed their sheets close to each other because there is little space on the footpath. Some even sleep close to the pipeline near the Ghat,” said Uday Yadav, manager of the shelter home.
According to staff, approximately 2,000 more people have sought shelter since the lockdown was announced two days ago.
At 2 am, a truck arrives at the shelter with raw material for the 7 am meal the next morning. Food at the shelter is provided four times a day. The shelter manager uses a loudspeaker during the day to make announcements about instructions and medical advice, among other things.
A general shortage of hygiene material remains a concern. “There are several families in the area that come during the day and give out fruits and snacks. Plus the government supply is constant and sufficient. But apart from that, we need soap, sanitiser and masks since the risk of infection is very high in these areas,” said Yadav.
While staff members have a 10-hour shift, many have been working for 18 hours since the outbreak.
At the Kashmere Gate stretch, several people with bags are seen walking towards the UP border. Among them is Rakesh, a labourer from Meerut, who decided to halt for the night at the shelter home.
“There is food and shelter here so I can sustain myself. We are getting news from people that the government might do something. If they don’t, I will walk back. I cannot be concerned about the disease right now,” he said.