Mariya doesn’t remember how or when she reached Kerala from her home town Bakudi in Jharkhand, though she has vivid memories of her son and two daughters.
Following the shock of her husband’s death, she left home. The next thing she remembers is being picked up from the streets of Thiruvananthapuram by three strangers in a truck and ferried into the comfort of a tile roofed house, where she met others sharing a similar plight. The ‘Sakshatkaram’ beggar rehabilitation centre on Kothalam Road has been home for this 50-year old woman, ever since she reached here a few days after it started functioning in 2006.
“Now she has learned Malayalam and helps us in running this place. She almost acts like a care taker sometimes. She was on treatment at the Mental Hospital here for a while. Even now, there are times when she loses her cool,” says Sreekumari, the supervisor of the rehabilitation centre.
The centre, which currently has 42 beggars, has over the past eight years, served in relocating beggars and people found wandering aimlessly on the city streets and providing them food and shelter.
The numbers also tell a story. From a high of 362 beggars who were brought here in 2007, the numbers have fallen gradually with every passing year to 78 in 2013. These numbers are impressive, in a scenario when the public awareness of the centre has led to people calling up and reporting, when they spot beggars.
Though many of them are comfortable here, there are many who want to break free, like Franseta Rodriguez from Valiyaveli, who maintains that she is not a beggar.
“I used to live a comfortable life when my husband was running the Venus studio in Ernakulam. After his death, I lived on money from churches and mosques, but I never went begging. I applied for old-age pension from the Corporation and it is about to be sanctioned. I have also given application for a house,” she says, after producing her pension application.
The centre authorities are now trying to get it passed, but they are still not sure if she can live alone, considering the fact that she is mentally unstable and is on medication.
Then there are others like K. Mohan from Jaya Nagar in Bangalore, whose son refused to take him back, when the authorities called him up.
“I used to work in the ITI in Bangalore. I was fired from the job two decades ago. I survived by doing odd jobs. My son is having a well paid job. He used to give me some cash every month but still hated me for not going for work. I came here to meet a friend at Beemappally and these people brought me here,” he says.
The authorities say that they found him wandering around and begging. His son apparently refused to accept him back, due to his ‘tendency for begging.’
Many who came here as drug addicts and drunkards have now got out of it, partly out of necessity. Vayomithram volunteers visit them every month to do medical checkups. But recently, there was a minor crisis with regard to funds for food.
“The Satya Sai Orphanage Trust, which has been taking care of the food supply, stopped it in November. The Corporation is doing it now,” says Ms. Sreekumari.
The centre will be shifted to a new block in Kalladimukham, which is being built as part of the Basic Service for the Urban Poor (BSUP) project. In the current facility the resident spend the day time idly sitting on a bench. The authorities are thinking of ways to engage them in activities to rejuvenate their minds.