The subway connecting AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi has become a home to relatives of poor patients from the neighbouring States who accompany them to the Capital for treatment

Life did not seem fair to Rupa when her only daughter, then six-years-old, was diagnosed with brain tumour.

The young mother of two packed her bags as advised by her doctors and came from Gwalior to Delhi’s All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), hoping for “a miracle”.

“The miracle is yet to happen. We have, however, been reduced to living on the streets,” said Rupa, who now calls the subway connecting AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital her ‘home’.

She lives here with her son and husband alongside several others, all of whom have a relative under treatment at either of the hospitals or are working at small stalls outside them.

Rupa has been in Delhi for two years now and earns a meagre, irregular salary of Rs. 700 by cleaning the subway. Her young son, who should have been in Class III now, works at a tea stall nearby. That earns him food.

“The subway is our home now. We are among the lucky ones,” Rupa said. She said most relatives of patients have to make do with living in the open outside the hospital without a roof over their head.

Senior officials at AIIMS said they are already offering all the facilities they have to the relatives of patients at the Institute. “But we cannot accommodate everyone. Many who come here are so poor that they cannot afford an entire family travelling to and fro, so they opt to stay outside the hospital itself. Several non-government organisations and individuals give them money, food and clothes,” an AIIMS official said.

Besides the people who live here almost ‘permanently’, there are some who have made the subway their temporary residence.

“Life is tough here but we have come for our daughter’s treatment. She is being treated for an eye ailment for the past four years but we are yet to get any results,” said Rajesh Yadav, who has come to AIIMS from Lucknow and said that he has two other daughters whose life has been put under strain because of this child.

“A lot of time is wasted running from pillar to post. Nobody guides us or tells us what to do. We are simple farmers and don’t know what else to do besides coming to a hospital for treatment. We eat a full meal when some good soul gives us food and we use the clothes that are distributed as charity. I just hope that my daughter gets better,” Mr. Yadav said.

Delhi, in fact, with its robust healthcare facility is home to many people from across the country who come here in search of affordable healthcare. What they are not prepared for is the high cost of living here.

“I cannot buy a full meal for less than Rs. 30 even from the street vendor. Women face a lot of hardship living on the streets, but there is very little that can be done,” said Bhuna, a farmer, who has come to Delhi from Mathura with his brother in the off-season to work at a tea stall outside AIIMS.

“We heard that there is a lot of temporary work available near Delhi hospitals so we came here,” he said. Bhuna and his brother too have made the AIIMS subway their home like several others here.

“Though the government has built dharamshalas/rest houses for the relatives of the patients, the number of patients has grown manifold and the infrastructure has not been able to keep pace with the demand,” an AIIMS official said.

“The story of the poor from any part of the country is the same outside all major hospitals in the city,” he added.

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