New Delhi: They're homeless and consider themselves lucky if they get one square meal a day. Now, thanks to Anna Hazare's fast against corruption, they have found a temporary home at the Ramlila Maidan and are assured of at least three meals a day if not snacks and juices in between.
Most of them are there for the free food, but there are some who do believe in Hazare's cause.
Take the case of Raghu Kumar, 24, who usually sits on a mat near a traffic signal in north Delhi and sells cigarettes and chewing tobacco from a bag and curls up at night in any corner he can find.
'I pay Rs.300 every week to the police. Besides, they even take cigarettes and other stuff for free, saying it is because of them that I could sell these things. With Anna, now even I can raise my voice against corruption.'
Raghu is not the only homeless individual with a grouse.
Madan Lal, who usually spends the night at a shelter near the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in south Delhi, had a sad story about how corruption can affect one's life.
'I worked as a peon at a government school in Burari but after my retirement, I never got my pension. The officials at the pension department asked for Rs.25,000 to clear my files. My children disowned me terming me as a burden and I had no other choice but to sell toys at red lights at the age of 76, just to live.
'Because of the corrupt officials, I am all alone today and so I have come here,' Madan Lal said.
These, however, were the exceptions. The majority of homeless have gathered in Ramlila Maidan to enjoy the free food being served, free mats to sleep on and a clean environment, contrary to the deteriorating conditions of the night shelters in the city.
'We don't know what is Lokpal bill; neither am I concerned but I am here because I get good food to eat and a nice place to sit. That's enough a reason for me to be here,' said Raju, one in a group of four homeless people who are otherwise seen near the Hanuman temple at Connaught Place.
'Many homeless have found a temporary home here in Ramlila Maidan as they don't have to beg or work for a livelihood. It is the best place for them,' said social activist Ashok Pandey.
Physically challenged Nagesh Nath, who begs near the Kalkaji temple in south Delhi, said: 'Beggars like me have never been helped by any politician or government, but because of this man (Hazare), many of us can have free food. We are raising slogans, wearing caps and singing songs, it's enjoyable. The cause does not affect me. I am happy that I am enjoying myself here.'
For Amit, who usually sleeps on the pavements near Sarai Kale Khan station, Ramlila Maidan was a picnic spot.
'Sleeping here is much better than sleeping on the pavements. Moreover you get everything at your hand whether it is water or food. What best can be done?' he said.
Ever since Hazare resumed his fast at Ramlila Maidan Friday, an army of volunteers has been ferrying items like bread pakoras, kachoris, samosas, aloo puris, paranthas, rasogollas, tea, biscuits and half a dozen varieties of namkeens to feed the teeming masses at the venue. For the health conscious, there are bananas and mango juice.
The capital is a home to over 150,000 homeless, according to NGO's like Bachpan Bachao Andolan and many more. However, the official record is around 70,000 are homeless.