Mumbai Local

Cancer patients, forced to stay on streets, may now lose even that

Local residents say people who are not patients mingle with patients staying on pavements for food and clothes distributed by NGOs— Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury  

A pint-sized Bishu is not yet 10, but is currently waging a battle for his life, and over the last two weeks for the small portion of the pavement that he calls home. Bishu, a cancer patient, is undergoing treatment at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel, and has been living on the pavement in front of the hospital for the last month with his grandfather Rambabu Mistry. Hailing from Patna, this is the only dwelling they can afford in Mumbai.

But over the last couple of weeks, they live in the fear of losing their ‘home’ with local residents protesting against the filth being generated on the pavements alleging that non-patients have mingled with the pavement-dwellers to get free food and clothes that NGOs distribute here.

Tata Memorial Hospital records 60,000 new cases every year from across the country. Hospital officials say two weeks back locals even got the police and civic officials to evict the pavement dwellers. Officials admit that accommodation for patients and their kin is a problem, but point out the arrangements already in place such as Gadge dharamshala in Dadar, Borges Memorial Home in Bandra and Sarvodaya Hospital in Ghatkopar, among others.

“But the problem has got compounded in the last two to three years with families reluctant to move from the pavement as individual donors and NGOs distribute food and clothes,” says the hospital’s Chief Public Relations Officer, S H Jafri. He adds that the number of people on the pavements were earlier manageable, but now becoming unmanageable.

Local residents, who agitated against the pavement-dwellers on Sunday morning, say they are tired of the filth on the pavement. “Many of them are not cancer patients and are living here only for the free food and clothes distributed by the NGOs. We don’t know who they are and we don’t want them to stay in our locality,” says Kishore Kharwar, a resident of VL Penderkar Marg.

A bunch of local youths are accompany Mr Kharwar. Many of them show pictures of piles of garbage in the area they clicked on their mobile phones over a period of time. “The whole area stinks. They make the area dirty, which makes us sick,” says Ravindra, another local.

The altercation between the locals and the pavement-dwellers peaked on Sunday when a citizens’ group was stopped from distributing food and water to the patients and their kin. A heated argument followed and the police had to intervene.

The patients’ kin looked visibly distressed as they tried to reason with the locals. “I am unable to walk as I have cancer in my right leg. We are not allowed to cook anything on the pavement. Today, they have stopped the distribution of food and water from morning. We are starving,” says Chanchala Devi, who hails from Bihar and has been living on the pavement for past four months with her family.

Also looking helpless are Anjali and Jagadish, who have come from Siliguri in West Bengal. Anjali, 36, is suffering from breast cancer. “We are living on this pavement for the past nine months. We cannot afford to rent a house here. But I have to treat my wife. We are struggling,” says Jagadish.

“We don’t need any food to be served by any organisation, but locals should understand our plight too. My radio therapy will take another month and we will go back once it’s over. My children are alone at home. We are not beggars, so why are we treated so badly?” asks Anjali, with tears in her eyes, even as another patient, Aarti from Nanded, challenges the protesting locals to take their pictures.

The locals say they have every reason to be upset. “They have occupied the entire pavement. They make it dirty. We are afraid to leave our children out on the roads,” said a resident who did not wish to be identified.

It’s a problem with no easy solution. The hospital has been speaking to NGOs to take their charitable activities to the other facilities where patients are put up. “We also speak to families and tell them they are exposing patients to infections by staying on the roadside,” said Mr Jafri.

For patients, this is an avoidable stress. Sabita came here from Munger in Bihar to seek treatment, accompanied by her husband Shivshankar. “ Marna to bhagya mein likha hai, thoda chain se marne do (We are destined to die. But let me die in peace),” she says, amid the din of protests.

(With inputs from Roli Srivastava)

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 6:18:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/Cancer-patients-forced-to-stay-on-streets-may-now-lose-even-that/article14021232.ece

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