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Poor, homeless patients take shelter in old buses in Delhi

Eight-year-old cancer patient Habiba Khatun huddled with her mother against the cold on the floor of a disused bus

New Delhi: Eight-year-old cancer patient Habiba Khatun huddled with her mother against the cold on the floor of a disused bus.

Khatun, who has a malignant tumour in her right eye, has been sharing the bus with about 30 other patients for a week while she receives treatment at the state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences. “We know this bus is not the best place to live. But we are poor and what option do we have?” Khatun’s mother asked, as her daughter, who has undergone 12 chemotherapy sessions since she was two, sat nearby.

Buses are becoming makeshift ‘night shelters’ for homeless patients in Delhi. Each bus can accomodate 28 people at a time. Pic/AFP
Buses are becoming makeshift ‘night shelters’ for homeless patients in Delhi. Each bus can accomodate 28 people at a time. Pic/AFP

“It is at least better than living inside public toilets or out in the open,” she said. Like hundreds of others, the pair has travelled from a village in Uttar Pradesh for daytime specialist care at AIIMS. The newly elected state government this month donated seven old, public buses for use as shelters outside AIIMS and other hospitals.

For Sulochana Lodhi, the buses, which have been stripped of their seats so patients can sleep on the floor, are a “blessing”. The 30-year-old has needed multiple surgeries and other treatment after burning her tongue, throat and stomach as a result of drinking acid in an attempted suicide last June.

“The bus is dirty and it reeks of urine and vomit,” said Lodhi, adding, “The bus is of course not an ideal place. But I am glad I have a roof over my head.” Prerna, a NGO, estimates that about 4,000 patients live in the open outside hospitals in New Delhi.

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