Four rooms, 52 to 90 girls, one kitchen, three washrooms, five toilets, no medical facility, no conveyance, no play area but a lot of love. This is what defines Bachchiyon Ka Ghar – an orphanage for Muslim girls at Matiya Mahal in Old Delhi.
The oldest in the Capital, built in 1891 by freedom fighter and pioneer of Unani medicine Hakim Ajmal Khan, the orphanage’s approach is through a congested and filthy dark lanes and by-lanes. It is a home to girls aged between seven and 18, and two wardens – Iftekhar Begum, who has been working here for 21 years, and Shahida Sultana, who joined recently.
Bachchiyon Ka Ghar is housed in a three-storey building. It is neat but cries for lack of space.
In one hall among six very small rooms – one of which is used by two wardens and one as a store plus changing room – some 13 to 16 girls sleep on the floor, whatever be the season. The hall serves every purpose for them: it is their drawing room, a dining room, bedroom, reading room and entertainment room. There is a television, carrom board and ludo for entertainment and indoor games.
Girls can’t play outside. All they do in the name of outdoor game is skipping at the home courtyard. Other rooms, the children say, are rat-infested, who often bite them when they sleep on the floor. Sometimes the rats also bit their shoes and clothes – due to which many girls are sent back from their schools. Lack of sufficient number of refrigerators and heaters in winters further make their lives difficult.
The salaries of the staff vary from Rs.1,100 to 14,000. The girls get Rs.5 to Rs.10 – depending on their seniority – per month as pocket money.
All this is still fine, the inmates say, but the most difficult part is the atmosphere right outside the orphanage. The exit to the street meets Karim Hotel, Jama Masjid and hundreds of shops.
“The narrow street we pass by is always full of vagabonds. They chase us till our schools and back. They hit us with their elbows. One elderly person hurls unspeakably filthy invectives in our ears every day. Recently, a boy took off my dupatta, and I came back crying to the home,” cried 16-year-old Sania Afzal.
Fouzia Karimuddin, who is of the same age, added: “The other day four of us were coming back home when a boy held my hand.”
Afshan, a younger one, too complained: “Now we feel scared of even going to the school. If we resist, they make false complaints against us.”
Agreed warden Shahida: “Till the time girls come back from school, we feel restless and scared of untoward incident.”
Despite everything, love binds them all. “These children live like sisters. They go to school in the morning. They study in corporation and government schools within the Old Delhi area. Girls in primary schools come back by 12-30 and the senior ones by 2-30 p.m. “Four girls take turns to cook dinner every day. They are also taught knitting and tailoring for self sustenance in future. They also read the Quran,” said Begum.
Though a cook prepares food in the first half, and a peon stays with them till the late evening, the home doesn't have medical facility, ambulance or any vehicle for use in case of emergency. “The office has not kept a male security or attendant for us either. In case of medical emergency, we wardens and the freelance Quran teacher have to take the girls to nearby hospital by any public conveyance which is usually not available during late nights,” said Begum.
“We don’t have lack of ration, clothes and bedding as we get it from the office and there are also a lot of donations, especially during the holy month of Ramzan. The main problem is space and the filthy atmosphere outside,” noted Shahida.
Tejpal Bharti, the vice-president of the home, too moaned: “We applied for a piece of land for the orphanage 14 years ago and did regular follow ups. But it is stuck between Delhi Government and Delhi Development Authority.”