A doctor's appointment, a row with neighbours, a lost key - the Delhi Police's Senior Citizen Cell does more than just dropping by homes of the elderly. The Indian Express travels with beat officers to homes of men and women above 60 to explore the various relationships they have forged.
Zohra Begum (78) Sadar Bazar
"Amma, mozey kahan hai tumhaare?" is the first thing constable Anil Kumar said as he entered 78-year-old Zohra Begum's first-floor house in Sadar Bazar. Begum's swollen left knee has her limping across the cold floor of her one-room house where she lives alone. Before she can answer, Kumar starts looking for a pair of socks to keep her warm.
Since Begum lost her husband seven months ago, beat officers from Sadar Bazar police station have increased the frequency of their visits to three times a week. "I have no children but Anil is like my son. A few weeks ago, children broke my window, and he got it fixed. When I am unwell, beat officers ask if I need medicines or food. Mujhe koi khatra nahi hai inke hote hue," she said.
For the past 12 years, Begum has been enrolled in the Delhi Police Senior Citizen Cell, and has the number of the constable, head constable and sub-inspector of Sadar Bazar police station on speed dial.
Beat officers also make sure her family treats her well. "They call me once a month to inquire when I last visited her. She gets calls from the Senior Citizen Cell at the Delhi Police's ITO headquarters, and they ask her if I behave properly when I visit. The police visits are comforting," said her younger brother Mohd Nasir Khan. Officers also conduct surprise visits to ask if beat officers assigned to her visit regularly.
Recalling the months after her husband died, Begum said, "I wasn't supposed to see the face of any man for four months and 10 days, because we observe a period of iddat. But the beat officers would sit outside the house and ask neighbours if I was okay."
Before leaving, Kumar said, "Amma, kal subah 10 baje aaunga", reminding her of an appointment with an orthopaedic doctor.
The Joint CP (Crime) is the nodal head of the Senior Citizen Cell. Ever since Alok Kumar retired in August 2018, the Cell has been headed by Rajan Bhagat, DCP (Crime). "Apart from security, senior citizens crave company, so we tend to deploy officers who are more patient and sympathetic than the rest. When I was an ACP in 2004, I used to visit senior citizen Amarnath Malhotra in Kamla Nagar. He is 95 now, and we still talk on Holi, Diwali and birthdays," said Bhagat.
Ashok Jain (63) and Radha Jain (61), Civil Lines
When Ashok Jain first downloaded the Delhi Police's Senior Citizen app on his phone, he pressed the SOS button out of curiosity.
"I got a call from the police station within a minute, and an officer asked what trouble I was in, assuring me help will reach soon. I was glad to know if I’m ever in trouble, I just have to press a button," said Jain, a realtor, who lives with his wife. Their son is in Spain and daughter in Gurgaon.
The app was launched on October 1, 2016, by the Delhi Police, and provides registered users names and numbers of their beat officers. "Pressing the SOS button sends an alert to the central police control room, the senior citizens' helpline number, 1291, and the area SHO. The user's location is also shared," said a senior officer.
The couple have told several friends about the Senior Citizen Cell, and the app. "We are fit and independent - we go to the gym daily. So, we don’t really need any help per se, but these visits by beat officers and the app does bring a sense of security," said Jain.
Manohar Nath Sehgal (83) and Indu Sehgal (73), Gulmohar Park
It was a week ago that Manohar Nath Sehgal suggested ASI KV Purshotham increase night patrolling at the posh Gulmohar Park, home to over 350 plots. "We patrol regularly but at night, we don’t use the siren. Residents complain it disturbs their sleep," said Purshotham.
The couple have known the ASI since 2014, and see him thrice a week - at home, at the market or near Gulmohar Club. "Every year, he gives me a card on my birthday, and one on Senior Citizens’ Day. I have kept all of them safely. I see him often at the market, and he always comes up to ask if everything is okay at home," said Sehgal, who has two children.
He does hold a minor grouse against the ASI, who is quite popular with the 28 senior citizens he visits at Gulmohar Park and Niti Bagh. "I once injured my hands in an accident and called Purshotham to tell him I was going to a doctor. He was very prompt and reached within minutes, but I think he was in a hurry to leave. It hurt me," said Sehgal.
In his defence, the ASI explained how he called an ambulance to take him to AIIMS hospital, where Sehgal refused to go. "I visited you daily after that, uncle. I did my job but I will do better," said Purshotham.
At a 79-year-old retired IAS officer’s house nearby, Purshotham is praised for putting an end to people playing cards outside his house. While at former journalist Surender Manohar Tarun’s home a lane away, Purshotham appears worried by the unruly wild plants in the garden, and the stacks of newspapers and polythene bags the 79-year-old has hoarded. "Officers ask me often if I need help cleaning the house, but I don’t want to get rid of these things," said Tarun, who has lived alone since 1983, and has known Purshotham for five years.
Veena Uppal (70), Jhilmil Colony
A few months ago, Uppal received a phone call from a man who hurled abuses at her, leaving the 70-year-old, who lives alone, rattled. "I immediately called up my beat officer, who reached within minutes. He registered my complaint, tracked down the number, and scolded the person over the phone. It turned out to be a former help’s son, who held a grouse against me," said Uppal.
As per Delhi Police, there are two categories of senior citizens in the city: Those who live alone or with a spouse, and those who live with children or other family members. "All of them are important to us but unofficially, our priority is the first category. If it’s an elderly woman living alone, we are even more alert," said a beat officer.
Uppal testifies to this - not a single call she has made to three beat officers has gone unanswered over the years. She remembers a beat officer visiting her in 2017, after she got an eye operation done. "I couldn’t see too well but I opened the door as I recognised the uniform. He was a new beat officer and chided me for opening the door without asking him who he was," said Uppal with a laugh, as constable Dharamveer Yadav (29) looked on.
In Central Delhi’s Darya Ganj, constable Rahul Luniwal (29) recently received a call from one of eight senior citizens on his beat. It was about a misplaced key. "The woman is 75 years old and lives alone, so when she called in the evening, I rushed to her with a trusted key-maker. I got the key made in front of me. When we receive such calls, we drop everything else and go. It’s a small problem for others, but for the elderly, it’s a distressing situation," said Luniwal, who has been on this beat for seven months now.
Shanti (82) and Shiv Prakash Aggarwal (84), Farsh Bazar
Constable Sachin Sharma sits for a chat with the couple only after he has ensured locks on the main door work, the balcony door is shut and the windows are covered. Twice a month, beat officers in Shahdara's Farsh Bazar visit the couple. "Both our daughters are married. They visit often and the neighbours are helpful. We don’t trouble the officers too much, but it's reassuring to know they are a call away," said Shiv Prakash, a retired MCD official.
As per a standing order, the Delhi Police is expected to do a security audit of homes of senior citizens in their districts, ensuring "door chains, safety locks, iron grills in balconies are in place". Beat officers also have to make sure verification of domestic helps, drivers and attendants is up to date.
Next to the landline in the couple's room is a medicine cabinet, and before each visit, Sharma inquires if they need anything picked up. "They always say no, but I ask regardless. They are quite independent, but I have to do my job," said Sharma, who has been visiting them for over a year.
Kamla Devi (70), Sabzi Mandi
Both Kamla Devi (70) and assistant sub-inspector Devender Kumar Bhardwaj (48) are equally stubborn - he won't let her make a cup of tea for him, and she won't let him leave till he has one. In the last year and a half, they have reached a compromise - tea comes from a neighbour's house when he visits.
Before he died in 2017, Devi's husband had complained at the Sabzi Mandi police station about neighbours not letting them put a charpoy in the verandah, and alleged his wife was beaten up. "I realised the two live alone, so first I registered them with the Senior Citizen Cell. Then I went to the colony and made a boundary using chalk on the floor between the two houses," said Bhardwaj.
At least twice a week, three beat officers visit Devi, and the women's help desk calls her often. Officers also have her daughter's contact details and address for emergencies. "I am old, uneducated and live alone. When my husband died, I was frightened… I can't disturb my daughter all the time. But perhaps getting old is the best thing that happened - now if I am in trouble, I would call Bhardwaj before my own brothers," said Devi.