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Safe haven: A group of the elderly people at Don Bosco Beatitudes in Vyasarpadi, Chennai.
Safe haven: A group of the elderly people at Don Bosco Beatitudes in Vyasarpadi, Chennai.

R. Sujatha

“They live a dignified life here, don’t want to talk of bad days”

CHENNAI: When a person is picked up from the street for begging, there are two possibilities: he or she could be taken care of by a non-government organisation or be sent to the government home in Melpakkam.

Those with NGOs seem to be assured of a life better than at the government remand home, where they stay for 15 days if remanded, or up to three years if convicted.

Often elders do not prefer old age homes as they are restrictive.

“In a period of three years we have admitted 658 persons so far. They were picked up from the road,” says HelpAge India’s director Indrani Rajadurai.

“Most of the old on the street are on the verge of death and need end-of-life care. But those who are healthy are encouraged to help around the home.”

Lakshmi, 76, was found wandering in Egmore railway station four years ago. She lost her husband at the age of 45 and her two boys aged 3 and one-and-a-half to chicken pox in her village Chevanduvetti near Tirunelveli. Until 20 years ago, she was an agricultural coolie, working for Rs. 2 a day. Around six years ago, she left her village, penniless. “Sometimes they would refuse to let me get on to a train, sometimes they would be nice. I came to Chennai to work as a domestic help.” R. Muthukrishnan, a volunteer handling the elders helpline (1253) at the Police Commissioner’s office in Egmore, says she was rescued from the Egmore railway platform and brought to an old age home in Velachery and then to Vyasarpadi.

The Don Bosco Beatitudes home in Vyasarpadi houses several such elderly persons who had been begging on the streets but refuse to acknowledge it now.

“They live a dignified life here and they do not want to talk of the bad days,” Mr. Muthukrishnan says.

Even at the elder’s home run by NGOs, an elderly person can sign the register and leave the home. “They (beggars) seek shelter in larger numbers during monsoon and peak summer. Some come for treatment for an injury. Once they are cured, they return to their old place,” he says.

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