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Life after the death

Poverty is the biggest enemy of little Shanno’s family, yet it fails to break their resolve to fight for justice, writes SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

Photo: Anu Pushkarna

New abode Shanno’s younger sisters with Zakat Foundation of India’s president Zafar Mahmood and the Happy Home kids

The sun seems to be bellowing at 42 degree Celsius, and I almost hold back from taking a trip from Central Delhi to Bawana in the city’s North-west side. Reaffirming my resolve, I wheel towards Bawana’s JJ colony, to meet Ayub Khan and Rehana Khatun, the parents of 11-year-old Shanno, a student of the area’s Nagar Nigam Prathmik Bal Vidyalaya, who slipped into a fatal coma after her teacher allegedly beat her and forced her to stand in the sun for too long.

Taking the final turn to the colony after about two hours, I face the ordeal of locating her house in the snaking rows of matchbox dwellings lined with open sewage drains. On finally spotting it — a rickety one-room dwelling — I come upon the only presence there, 10-year-old Mushrat. “This is Shanno’s aunt’s house. Mama ji gave this address because their house doesn’t have any number,” she says. A few minutes walk with Mushrat and I find myself in front of yet another tottery makeshift lodging, hardly a 8 feet square, with a torn curtain substituting the door. Peeping through it, I first notice a row of feet, some big, some small, and one real tiny pair. Suddenly pops up a television reporter in the fairly dark room, doing her piece to camera, infested with words like bechari, abala ma. My eyes rest on Rehana, Shanno’s mother, her vacant look so obvious.

A few utensils and two trunks are strewn around the room; no furniture though. Noticing me looking at a girl sleeping on the floor, Rehana says, “This is my eldest daughter, 14 years old.” Surrounded by her other children — two daughters, 7 and 8, and the one-and-half-year-old son using the mother’s shoulder to stand on his own but failing — Rehana begins her tale of woes. “That day, Shaina and Shahnaz came rushing from school saying the teacher had badly beaten Shanno and asked her to stand in the sun. I went to the school to find out what happened. As the teacher pushed me out of the classroom, I went to the principal to complain. She drove me out too without checking the child’s condition. Their negligence killed Shanno.”

Her husband, a waiter during the wedding season and otherwise a rickshaw puller, was out of town on work that day. Fighting back tears, she says, “He rushed back and from that day onwards, he has not gone back to work. I have not got even five minutes with him to mourn our daughter. Every morning, he leaves at about 8, either to meet the lawyer or people who are offering to help us get justice, and returns very late.”

With no income now, running the household has become an everyday challenge for Rehana. “I am borrowing money from the neighbours. Since we met the Chief Minister, hardly anyone here believes that we returned without receiving any money from her. Then there are some who are saying that my husband’s life is under threat. Everytime he goes out I worry for his safety.”

The apprehensions

Yet another issue in front of Rehana today is the NGO Happy Home’s offer to adopt her two younger daughters. “This means we will have to send them away to their Jamia Nagar hostel. Being their mother, I am very worried, how will they live without me?” she asks. On hearing it, Shahnaz pipes up, “I can.” The mother turns her face towards her, asking, “Kya raat ko reh loge? Dar nehi lagega?”

But Ayub is determined to be the sole decision maker. “Hamare yahan mard ki baat chalti hain. I will send the kids there and take the NGO’s offer to give us a house in the colony. I have already seen the place, it is in the D block,” he says over the phone. He is on his way to meet Ashok Randhawa, the president of Sarojini Nagar Traders Association, which has also pledged to look after the family.

“My children are dear to me, I have their best interest in mind. I know at Happy Home, they will have a better future,” he adds.

I leave the Khan household reflecting on life in Delhi, our National Capital, bursting at its seams with over 14 million people.

And how each resident here lives in his/her own reality, some rich and super rich, some living from salary to salary, some others hand-to-mouth, and then are some who don’t quite know where their next meal would come from. The only positive I can think of here is when the Khans, even in their adversity, say, “We will not rest till we get justice.”

A ray of hope

“We have not yet thought of giving the family any legal help, but our priority is to ensure proper education to Ayub Khan’s children and get a roof over their head as soon as possible,” says Zafar Mahmood, the founder-president of Delhi-based charitable organisation Zakat Foundation of India. The Foundation, which runs a charitable medical centre in the JJ colony in Bawana and a weekly mobile dispensary in the area, has offered to accommodate Shanno’s two younger sisters in Fatima Girls Care, the girls wing of its Happy Home orphanage in Jamia Nagar.

“The parents have visited the hostel to check the facilities and they seem quite happy with it,” he says. The siblings, like the rest of the 65 children already residing in the boys’ and girls’ sections, will attend God’s Grace School nearby. “It is one of the best schools of the area, it follows the CBSE syllabus,” he says. Responding to Shanno’s mother’s apprehensions about sending her daughters to an orphanage, Mahmood says, “We might ask her to stay with the children for some time to see for herself how safe it is. We never treat these children as others’ kids. Not just me, all the other members of the Foundation give their personal time to them. On weekends, we bring food from home and eat with them, we celebrate the festivals in their company, take them out on excursions, send them to their families on vacations, etc.”

The Foundation also gives scholarships to academically bright and needy students to enrol in coaching institutes for competitive examinations, besides running a 20-bed hospital at Okhla Vihar and other charitable projects aimed at the disadvantaged.

SBP

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