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Indian Express
19 April 2010

MAJID Khan, 55, lies on the filthy pavement behind Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel, his wife and son, 10, relentlessly fanning him to keep the flies away.

The wound from a surgery for oral cancer is still fresh, last Monday, a patch of skin from his chest was grafted to his cheek. Drooling incessantly, he is fed through a tube in the nose.

With two bags of clothes, a mattress and a file of medical papers, the family has been on the footpath for one-anda-half months, the Rs 1,500 they earn cannot pay for a hotel.

“We managed on the street before the surgery but now we fear infection,” Majid’s wife said. She and the child take turns between nursing Majid and searching for a dharamshala, but “everywhere there is a long waiting list,” she said.

The family is one of 25 to 30 on the footpath, each with a similar story.

Shyam Narayan Ram of Bihar and his wife Manjudevi, who has uterine cancer, are in the city for the fourth time. He has got used to sleeping on the street. “Last year when we first came, we ran around for a dharmshala as we could not afford a hotel for so long. We rested under the tree next to the hospital, and realised the family next to ours was going through a similar ordeal. They suggested we stay overnight on the footpath,” Ram said. He found it awkward then, but not any longer.

Not all can afford trips home and back. “We were asked to come for a follow-up. My husband earns only Rs 800, and we cannot afford tickets,” said Bhanumati Kawat of Bilaspur, MP, worrying about her five children at home. Her husband Tezbhan is being treated for head and neck cancer.

The hospital conducts a daily census of this floating population. A security officer’s logbook, ‘Footpath Round’, listed 17 families on Friday, though sources said the unofficial total is higher.

“We have tried vacating the footpath with the help of police but they come back. We make sure those on treatment, even in the out-patients department, are accommodated in dharmshalas. Not all on the pavement are under treatment. Many have been asked to come back after two to three months but they refuse to go back despite concessions as they get free meals from NGOs,” said Madhukar Patil, officer-in-charge of the hospital’s medical social service. “But they are patients and we cannot take harsh steps.” Most on the footpath are from Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and MP, a small percentage from distant parts of Maharashtra, and a few from Bangladesh and Nepal. The hospital registers every year over 40,000 new patients, 70 per cent of them from outside Mumbai, and treats about 1000 as out patients.

The hospital has tied up with the Borges Memorial Home in Bandra.

“It can accommodate 25 families. We have also tied up with dharmshalas,” said Patil. “Not all in those dharmshalas are patients. Many refuse to leave, those in need don’t get to stay.”

“The hospital referred us to the Bandra home but it charges Rs 100 and I can’t afford it,” said Anita Deb, mother of Manish, 10, who has bone cancer. Residents of Bihar, Manish, his mother and uncle have been here since February 8.

Food and clothes are never in short supply. “Every day about 200 patients and their relatives are given breakfast to sustain them the entire day,” said Teckchand Dedhia of Shree Vardhaman Jagruti Yuvak Mandal, distributing food since 1986. The day Newsline visited, the NGO distributed dal, rice, rotis, bananas, milk, mango and mango juice.

Most of those on the footpath are thirsty. “There is no single source of clean water. Sometimes we go to the petrol pump, sometimes near the temple. But they shoo us away,” said Salim Sheikh, relative of a patient from MP.

Photographs by pradip das text by jinal shah

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