Outside their shops, they would see people living on the streets - grappling with pain and hunger. The shop owners could not ignore them and go on with their daily routines. It was just too sad.
So they – a few youngsters running fancy shops and toy stores and other such in Kozhikode – got together on a WhatsApp group, three years ago.
They began work on a Sunday, offering breakfast to the street dwellers in front of their shops. The practice continued every Sunday. Today, nearly 300 homeless people come for the Sunday breakfast.
The group became Theruvinte Makkal – Children of the Street, an NGO.
“It’s not just giving them food, we also began reuniting some of them with their families,” says Abdul Wajib of Theruvinte Makkal.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes the families don’t want them back. Abdul remembers a man called Shafi they found wandering about in the Kozhikode Railway Station. Shafi’s story shocked them. A lost man abandoned by his family, he came from Kanhangad, Kasargode. He used to work in the Gulf and had made a lot of money. But now his family didn’t want him. His wife was still working in the Gulf, their children were students when Shafi was abandoned a few years ago. When Abdul and the team tried to contact them, they were told to take him to an old age home, for which they would send money.
Shafi didn’t want to go to an old age home. They took him to the RDO of Kanhangad. But Shafi wasn’t sure of his age, and to get senior citizen benefits he would need to produce documents that proved he was above 60 years of age. Reluctantly he went to a sister’s home.
(Members of Theruvinte Makkal with Shafi - third from left)
“Such stories can only come out if you are alert – if you observe people walking on the street aimlessly and ask about them. The other night, I saw a man from Kannur walking from the railway station. He appeared to be in a disturbed state. When I asked him, he told me his wife had left him. I took him to my room, gave him food and when he insisted on going back home, I put him on a train to Kannur,” Abdul says.
When they try to reunite the street dwellers with family, most relatives would tell them to take these people to shelter homes.
“But they may not want that. Once while we were serving food in Thrissur – we had expanded to other districts over time – a man called Babu asked us to please take him to a hospital. He was in pain and died on the way,” Abdul recalls.
“The problem is none of the people’s representatives or politicians ask why these people live on the streets. There is a couple that has been living in front of a petrol bunk here for long. Everyone sees them, but no one does anything about it,” Abdul laments. “No, instead they take the law into their hands and kill a man who they think stole a chicken.”
Help does sometimes come from unexpected quarters. Recently when they organised a food and cloth drive in Wayanad, they were helped by local policemen.
What they hope to get is a rescue centre for the street dwellers. They had sent an appeal to the Chief Minister and had got a reply that there were four centres in Kasargode.
But the group plans to try and make it happen – establish an institute called Snehaveedu (House of Love), where street dwellers would be given love and care.