Thousands of women and children live in ‘dhalaos’ amidst rotting food and waste to escape rapists and criminals

The stench of the rotting, unsegregated waste emanating from dhalaos, or concrete garbage bins, and the sight of children and stray dogs trying to salvage half-eaten food amongst them is a picture most city dwellers are familiar with.

But, what people may not know is that these dhalaos also house many children and women, who use these bins at night in the hope of a sound sleep without being harassed. Many of them call the dump yard their ‘home’.

One such concrete garbage bin at the Boat Club lawns, in the heart of the Capital, is ‘home’ to a middle-aged woman who is dressed almost always in a green salwar kurta. “My parents and husband left me here,” she said, enquiring if this reporter could give her anything to smoke.

“They are all dead, I live here to escape being raped or assaulted by the men on the streets. The stench keeps them at bay,” she said. “Children too live here sometimes. It is far too dangerous to sleep in the open.”

The woman claimed to have forgotten her name but said no government scheme or non-government organisation works with the likes of her in the area. The result is rehabilitation is a far cry.

“We stay hidden as far as possible. We take a bath when it rains; there is rarely a chance to wash clothes. Nobody lets us enter municipal toilets. I live on charity. Several office-goers here recognise me and often give me food and water,” she said.

This woman is among the few thousand who live unseen and unaccounted for in the 2,500-odd concrete garbage bins across the fourth largest city of the world (in terms of area).

Delhi, which is practically bursting at the seams and is the second most populous city in the country, takes in over three lakh additional people every year, adding to the already stretched infrastructural and natural resources, according to senior officials in the Delhi Government.

Often driven to the city in search of a livelihood and the recession, many who come here are forced to use the city’s ‘dhalaos’ to spend the night. “While staying in ‘dhalaos’ is seen as an illegal encroachment, many use it as a night shelter,” a senior Municipal Corporation official claimed.

“Dhalaos near residential areas are the most preferred by the homeless children and women, who work here during the day and use it at night to sleep. There was some encroachment in these ‘dhalaos’ by families but they have now been cleared,” the official added.

Though these dhalaos give protection to the women and children, living among rotting garbage is by no means an easy task.

Sanjay Gupta of CHETNA (a non-government organisation working in the area of rehabilitation of children living on the streets) said: “Sadly, there are no figures or data of the number of children living on Delhi’s streets. Women and children are the most vulnerable population on the streets where abuse (physical/mental/ emotional) is rampant.”

Mr. Gupta said because there was an acute shortage of shelter for children, many were forced to stay in places that are very unhygienic and dangerous.

Mr. Gupta said the government was not unaware that there are many children working and living at the Ghazipur landfill site. The constant exposure to the rotting filth has ensured that almost all of them suffer from skin, lung diseases and have a compromised immune system, he claimed.

“Several children are rag-pickers, beggars and many do menial jobs to earn some money to buy food; a safe, clean bed is an unattainable luxury for them,” Mr. Gupta added.

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