news Saturday, June 13, 2015 - 05:30

  A narrow winding path leads to the entrance of Maddur railway station, a small town in the district of Mandya in Karnataka. Walking past the stairs leading to the platform, one cannot help but notice how uncharacteristically clean it is. Not a single piece of paper, plastic bags or discarded bottle is found littered on the corridor on the main platforms. All thanks to ‘Marathi Amma’, a poor elderly woman who has been carrying out this "Swachh Bharat" campaign for more than a decade. There are no TV stations beaming her life, she does not even get paid for it. Yet, she cleans the railway station every single day, religiously. She has not been officially hired by anyone to do it, but along with a couple of workers employed by Railway department, Marathi Amma or "Ammamma" is the reason why the station is spic-and-span every day. Video of 7_MgdTtOaVg She is poor and lives on the streets. She has built a tent like structure all by herself using cloth and plastic sheets in which she stores all her utensils and food. Just outside, she has built a small fireplace for the cooking. Nobody knows since when is she living near the station or how old she is, but everyone knows her. Those working at the railway station say that she has been living there for more than a decade. She speaks and understands only Marathi, earning her the name “Marathi Amma”. As I approach her and see that she's having her breakfast, I try to strike a conversation in Marathi but she feels threatened. She immediately picks up a stone and aims it at me. Startled, I take a step back only to be reassured by a railway employee accompanying me that she means no harm. Explaining her behaviour he says, that Amma assumes that anyone speaking in Marathi has come to take her away to her family. Maddur railway station Starting her day at four in the morning, she visits a nearby canal to bathe and returns to her “house” behind the railway station, just before dawn breaks. Draped in a Maharashtrain-styled saree, she hits the railway platform at 6am with a broom in her hand, sweeping a long stretch of the platform, if not entirely. At times, she even uproots the grass growing on the railway tracks. She takes a break at 7.30am to cook herself some breakfast and returns to work later in the day. “At night she sleeps on the platform where there is shelter, offering her protection from rain,” says a railway police constable deployed at the station. Marathi Amma's tent and fireplace She collects rice and wheat from the grains that is spilled on the platform when sacks are transported from railway wagons. She goes to a nearby shop to buy other ingredients or walks around the village, where locals give her a few spices that she may need. Some say that her family, who appeared to be well-off, had come to the town to take her home, but she refused to go back with them. “Amma is a proud and self-respecting woman. She does not beg for money and even refuses to take when offered from those unfamiliar to her. She only accepts Rs. 10 from faces known to her,” says the constable. Another railway employee who was at the station for two years says, “I would give her Rs. 10 daily. On the days I would forget, she would come to me and take it from my pocket, but never more than Rs. 10.” Marathi Amma's belongings  Raghupathy HS, who was posted as station master in 2010 recollects the days when he gave her Rs. 50 each day from his own pocket for her livelihood. He gave her one or two sarees each year during Ayudha Pooja. The station master is not around anymore, but other railway gangmen have taken it upon themselves to give her the sarees during the festivities every year. But not everybody likes her. Some believe Amma is mentally disturbed. She’s often found talking loudly to herself and is hostile to strangers, sometimes chasing them away. “Large gathering or too many people in the station can also agitate her,” says Maniyaiah, one of the station masters at Maddur. Attempts to send her away to government shelters has proved futile, as Amma returned to her fort within a few days. Maniyaiah has written a second letter to the railway police force asking them to evict her from the premises. “She’s never troubled anyone here. It’s true she dislikes people and does not mingle, but she has not caused any harm to anyone though,” says Venkatesh, a resident of Maddur.