Meet Diana, a Kerala cobbler who fought all odds to help the needy

Diana reached Kerala from Jaipur as a 14-year-old and lived on the streets for many years. She now helps the poor in Perambra, Kozhikode.
Diana Lissy
Diana Lissy
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Diana Lissy is worried that she doesn't have savings left for when schools reopen after lockdown restrictions ease. But she is optimistic that she can earn some money in the interim and that the reopening may be delayed. Every year, she donates a number of umbrellas, books, school bags and uniforms to children in Perambra town, Kozhikode. She is happy that for the third consecutive year, she was able to donate to the Chief Minister's relief fund— her part for the welfare of a state that protected her.

Diana Lissy is a 40-year-old cobbler on the streets of Perambra. Not only is she kind-hearted but is also the face of grit and determination to survive against numerous odds.

Over the last few years, Diana has appeared a number of times in the media as people recognised how the woman, quietly working away in the corner of a street, was generously donating despite her scant earnings. 

Sivani Patel to Diana

Diana Lissy was born Sivani Patel in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

“I lost my mother when I was very young. I strongly believe she was killed by her brothers. One day, my uncles asked me to sign a few papers. I did not know what they were.  I refused to do so. They poured acid on me. Somebody took me to hospital. Before the wounds dried up, my father, who sold marbles, ran away with me. We boarded a train and we had no tickets. After a day or two, the ticket examiner caught us and asked us to get down at a station. That was Koilandy in Kozhikode,” Diana narrates.  

She was a 14-year-old when she reached Kerala, holding her father's hand. She did not know the language and was suddenly forced to live on the streets.

After a few days of starving, her father began drawing pictures and earned some money for the pair of them. However, Diana says, her father eventually grew addicted to alcohol. During those years, Diana collected waste materials and sold them to make a living. She worked as a domestic help at homes in the neighbourhood.

“One day, my father married a woman and they went to Tamil Nadu. I was all left alone. I was 19 then. A man who owned a lodge gave me a small job —  to provide the guests with keys to the toilet. He also gave me food and shelter. He considered me as his own daughter. But he died and I was back on the streets,” Diana recalls.

Meanwhile, she had changed her name to Diana. “A church priest gave me this name. I had started going to church then. I liked the name, so I kept it,” she says. 

She slept on shop verandas in the street. Her bruises and burn marks bear witness to all the times she chased away men who attempted to molest her while asleep. With men approaching her for sexual favours, she was forced to shift from one spot to another to get a night’s sleep. She finally reached Perambra town. 

“A few sex workers there gave me protection. They never allowed me to visit them late in the evening. They protected me from their work. By then, I had learned shoe-repairing and started work in the corner of the street,” she says.  

Eventually, Diana helped a few of the sex workers who supported her to find alternate careers by sharing her earnings with them.

“One day, some people tried to kidnap me. I cried loudly. A few men who came to paste film posters on the walls rescued me. They asked me to sleep near the police station. Even a few police officers asked me to sleep near the station. I always kept needles near my chest to escape from perverts who come near me at night,” she says.

When the police station was shifted, some of the local people helped her find a rented room. 

“Many people have helped me after I reached Kozhikode. A shopkeeper provided me with food and medicine when I was not well. I repaired shoes sitting near his shop for about eight years. He never asked me to go away. Many have helped me live in this town,” she says. 

The never-ending hardships continued for Diana when she got married to a man she met in Perambra. He bought a house for her. When they started living together, she realised that he was a drug addict. “He used to physically torture me for his pleasure. So we got divorced. Later, I donated the house to a poor family,” she says. 

She shifted to a rented room once again. 

Earlier this year, a group of NSS volunteers from Nochad Higher Secondary School (NHSS), a few local people and the Perambra Care Foundation, an NGO, joined hands to build a house for Diana. 

Helping the needy 

“I once saw a tea-shop owner throwing water at a mentally-ill person when he asked for tea. I was having food there. I bought him tea and food. Then I thought, there are many people who need help, who are in worse positions than me. Since then, I started giving a portion of my earnings to others,” she says.

She gave her house to a poor family she met at the Daya Pain and Palliative Clinic in Perambra during her charity work there. “I save some amount for charity from what I earn everyday. I use that amount for palliative care patients, to buy things for children, to buy food items for the needy, to help cancer patients and the mentally-ill,” she explains. 

She has been at the forefront of campaigns to raise money for the treatment of the poor. 

Her life has changed now that she has mastered Malayalam and learnt to speak English as well. Having met nomads from Tamil Nadu when she was younger and homeless, she has learnt Tamil too.

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