Monday, May 25, 2020

Mubarakpur by-pass, Bhopal. Lockdown Day 53.

A lot has been written about the lockdown in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic, and I skip reading many such articles now. A surfeit of medical, non-medical and epidemiological articles in the papers, on email, and on WhatsApp makes me sick of the virus and the disease. The fear of the virus has been overtaken by the guilt, the worry, the helplessness of seeing lakhs of our fellow citizens - men, women, children, elderly , handicapped - trying to reach home any way they can. I am in awe of their endurance and determination, even as I am ashamed that we have brought them to this - forcing them to walk, cycle, hitch a dangerous ride - at the height of a scorching Indian summer, just because we as a nation did not care enough to plan better or to execute a plan to get them home in dignity. 

I learn from a friend about an organization in Bhopal that is helping citizens walking home on the highway outside the city. The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in Bhopal has been active since the day following the lockdown (over 60 days now), feeding people who have lost jobs and their means of earning a livelihood. These include daily wage labourers, rag-pickers, the disabled, among others. At present they cook and distribute over 10,000 meals a day. 

The city is under a strict lockdown. My colleague and I have lockdown passes for work among the slums in Bhopal. We go one afternoon to observe the work being done by the Jamaat volunteers at the Mubarakpur bypass and to see whether and how we can help. We reach the highway at 4.30 pm . The worst of the heat of the day has passed, but it is still extremely hot and oppressive, like being in an oven. The hot air stings my eyes and dries my lips in no time. The highway has no trees left after six-laning, and a few thorny shrubs on the roadside offer patchy shade, if any. The Jamaat volunteers have put up a small shamiana on the roadside,and food and water is spread out on tables under it. As it is the month of Ramzan, all the volunteers are observing roza, and do not consume even water during the day. Frankly, this level of discipline amazes me: to not drink water through the day in this scorching heat and to continue to work, requires a level of will-power and faith that I am afraid I do not have.

I have taken a few first aid kits with me to the highway: bags with ORS packets, dressing materials, Band-Aid strips, paracetamol tablets for fever, a bar of soap, and a bottle of Savlon. My colleague has brought along packets of biscuits. We wait in the scorching sun, feeling self-conscious. We look like who we are - privileged enough to live through a prolonged lockdown (it is day 53) without a problem; to be able to hire a taxi to take us from our homes to this highway.

A steady procession of trucks (large and small), small pickup vans, autorickshaws, motorcyles, all go by. Today the traffic is mostly from Gujarat, though there are quite a few vehicles from Maharashtra too. Each is packed beyond capacity by workers returning home, sometimes with families. 

As the vehicles stop at the Jamaat stall, the volunteers on the ground rush to them with packets of food, biscuits, and sachets of water. Throwing up sachets to reach men sitting on the roof of the truck above the driver's cabin; or in the truck (the driver would rarely allow the passengers to alight) has been honed to a fine art by the volunteers. Since there have been many people on foot whose slippers had broken or had worn out, a sack of new footwear in all sizes is also available for those who needed a replacement pair.

I go up to the driver of any vehicle that stops, and hand over the first aid kit, explaining what each item in it was for. In all cases, they listen attentively and store the kit carefully, and I sincerely hope they will not need to use it.  One has heard of so many road accidents and deaths of the returning workers. In most such accidents, my little kit will be of very limited use.

I soon run out of the kits I have taken with me, and spend the rest of the time talking to some of the people who I meet. Most of the vehicles from Gujarat are from Surat, and I feel a kinship with them, recognising many of the places they work in: Ved Road, Anjani, Diamond Nagar.


Komal Prasad and other textile workers from Surat head to Allahahabad
This mini-truckload of textile industry workers - weavers, embroidery workers, textile market workers, are headed from Surat to Allahabad (nobody calls it Prayagraj). Komal Prasad who is seated is older than the others, spends his day folding sarees in the textile market and says he will not return to Surat. Eighteen years there is enough, he feels. The rest of the men say they will return as soon as work resumes. Komal modifies his statement - well, maybe next year, he says, but certainly not this year. 
None of them has been paid since March - not even for the 24 days before the lockdown on March 25th. Their names appeared on the list of train passengers four times but each time they were told it was a mistake - they are convinced the tickets were sold to someone else at a higher price. They themselves have paid Rs. 1500 each to an agent to get a ticket. Now 48 of them have each paid Rs. 3500 for standing (and occasionally sitting) in this mini-truck for the journey home. 
I tell them about Aajeevika Bureau, the organization that works with migrant labour and provides legal support in issues like non-payment of wages, or compensation for injuries; and about their office at Katargam Darwaza in Surat. Komal and two of his friends note down the number of the office and of the co-ordinator there. When they return they may visit the office to ask about how to get their pending wages, and any other problems they may have. 

Nallasopara to Sultanpur by road. The Jamaat stall in the background
These two friends set off on a motorcycle from Bombay to Sultanpur. The person in the helmet works at wiring buildings in Nallasopara, and informs me they will return to Bombay once things "settle down". They have been on the road since the previous evening. 

More textile mill workers from Surat's Diamond Nagar head to UP.
Meanwhile, several other trucks passed by from Gujarat, like this one. These textile workers live in Diamond Nagar in Surat, and are headed to Allahabad. 60 of them have paid Rs. 3100 each to travel in this truck.The day after they left, fellow workers in Diamond Nagar protested about wanting to go home, resulting in a police lathi-charge in which a worker from Odisha died.




Anand, walking from Kalyan to Damoh.
Anand looks remarkably cheerful for someone walking with his family from Kalyan to Damoh district in Madhya Pradesh. When I saw him he was barefoot as his slippers had broken on the way. Perhaps his cheerful look is because he has got a brand new pair from the the Jamaat stall. 





The Jamaat is very well organized here - tables with water sachets that have been chilled with ice; fresh food brought in every few hours, with spiced puris and pickle packets provided for dinner as well. The young volunteers are tireless, and the stall runs day and night. Sometimes there is a treat - someone in the city donates bananas or cucumbers and so these are distributed as well. 


The heat grows more oppressive as the sky grows overcast. I perspire freely and take a drink of warm water from my water bottle. It does not quench my thirst. A sudden heavy shower begins just as this truck from Surat arrives. The passengers try to shelter under a tarpaulin sheet while also collecting water and food. Everyone collects as much water as they can. 


These images are repeated many times - autos from Gujarat, as well as a truck full of workers from Gujarat that comes through the checkpost at the Mubarakpur bypass. Almost all are going to UP and Bihar. 


Chandra Bhan (in yellow gamcha) and his friend head from Ahmedabad to UP.
Chandra Bhan and his friend are both diamond polishers who work in Ahmedabad, now heading home to UP on their motorcycle. We will return, said both, when things are more settled, and we know what is going to happen. Things are very uncertain at present.



Muskaan and Rubina with their father Kamal Hassan.


As it gets dark, I meet Kamal Hassan and his two daughters - Muskaan and her older sister Rubina, all headed from Kalyan to Gorakhpur on their motorcycle. He says he is very fortunate that he has his own means of transport. His wife died some years ago, he tells me. 

I am relieved to find only two families still going home on foot in the time I am there. Apparently the previous week, the majority of people were walking home. Now they are in their autorickshaws (from Surat and Bombay), motorcycles, small pickup vans, trucks. What is better - to risk your life standing in a crowded truck, baking in the sun for three days, with a likelihood of fatal accidents, or to embark on what should be considered a death walk in the summer heat, dodging police checkposts, uncertain of where you will find water and food? Why am I even asking myself these questions? A person will take the best option he or she has. Lucky enough to have family who can send across money to buy standing room on a truck? - it is quicker. Too poor to do so? - you walk. 

The past few weeks find me distracted. How can I help more directly, in addition to monetary support to organizations that are providing food and drink to the people migrating home? How has the lockdown affected them - physically, emotionally, mentally, and how can I make amends? My big regret from today is that I did not take down any of their mobile numbers, so I cannot find out whether or not they reached their homes safely. 

The biggest migration since partition, is what some have called it - this movement of our workforce, of the drivers of our cities, heading back to their villages.







 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

I sit here past midnight, waiting for the reassuring sounds of the CPAP machine as my father breathes with it. There is a gradual slowing of the breathing and then a frightening silence that lasts 10, 15, 25, nearly 40 seconds till he takes the next breath. A few rapid breaths, then a slowing, and there it is the long pause again. Initially I used to run to his bedside to wait anxiously each time he stopped till he resumed breathing, but now I expect it.

This is called Cheyne Stokes breathing and is often present in patients with advanced cardiac failure, among other conditions. It is also associated with a greater risk of sudden cardiac death. Being a physician I know this, and it does not help me deal with it. He is on a cocktail of medicines.

In the silence of the night I hear the ticking of the clocks in the house. The train that goes by.  A dog that barks. The silence of no drills and machinery that surround us during the day. And I hear his breathing.

My father is six months short of being 90 years old. He is diabetic and hypertensive, has had a cardiac bypass, and is on a pacemaker. I know his heart is very tired. I know he cannot live eternally, but - I cannot bear the thought of him not being around.

But when I see him as he was today - feet and abdomen swollen, his face puffy, him breathless with the least exertion, my heart goes out to him. I do not want him to suffer like this.

He continues, even now, to take care of himself as much as he can: using the toilet, bathing, shaving, etc are all done independently, though slowly as he has to pause frequently to catch is breath. How I wish I could breathe for him.

On days he feels better he reads the news on his iPad, watches news on TV and watches one TV serial that he enjoys. He watches TV on mute as his hearing is very poor  and he dislikes using his hearing aid.

I am watching my father wind down.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Answers, anyone?

Shehzad drives an auto-rickshaw in Bhopal and has a daughter in school. Last year all the children were asked to open a bank account through the school, which he did by providing them the necessary documents. A sum of Rs. 400 per year is to be transferred by the Government into each student's SBI account for purchase of school uniforms. The money was transferred and the full amount immediately deducted by the bank as penalty for not maintaining a minimum balance required for a metropolitan bank branch. In spite of repeated requests by Shehzad that he does not have the money to keep two bank accounts running (one his own and one joint with his daughter), and that he had not asked for the second account, the money has not been refunded.

Sheila works as a domestic help and lived in Bhopal till last year when she moved with her husband to Bairagarh when her slum was demolished as part of the city's replanning. Her son has joined a school there and the teacher wanted a bank account opened in her son's name through the school. Now the boy's identity documents are all from Bhopal - birth certificate and Aadhar card. So are hers and her husband's. They own no ration card. The teacher refuses to open the account saying a bank account cannot be opened till they show proof of living in that locality, ie in Bairagarh. As the family is squatting on some land near a forested area, they have no address there. Sheila said she does not need her son to have an account and will do without the Rs. 400 assistance annually, but the teacher will not hear of it - every child must have the account she insists. And Sheila says she is helpless as the son was born and the Aadhar card made when they were in Bhopal. Things are at this stand-off now.

Meanwhile Chintamani in Hyderabad is unable to get her granchildren into a Government school as they do not have an Aadhar card and the school refuses admission without one. Her son is an alcoholic, not bothered about the family, the daughter-in- law and she work from dawn to dusk as domestics to keep the house going. Meanwhile the grandchildren, 5 and 6, are out of school. I thought no services or facilities were to be denied for want of an Aadhar card till the Supreme Court gives its decision, but the Government school authorities think otherwise. Or am I mistaken?

Anyone with any answers for these parents, please write in.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Two men

Patients attending the clinic yesterday at the 90 foot road in L ward of Bombay came with a variety of complaints. One woman probably had malaria and looked sick. A man with hypertension and heart disease; one with chemical dermatitis due to working with paint; several with skin infections. All of them looked tired and were thin, most wore clothes blackened by the grease and dirt at their workplace, most had calloused hands and grimy fingernails. But Vishal (name changed) looked unlike the others. Fresh-faced, very  young, clean, he had come to Bombay from Bahraich district in Uttar Pradesh 2 months ago after his 12th standard examinations to join his brother in the Kajupada slum, to earn Rs.7000 a month for working 12 hours a day and sometimes longer.
I asked him why he left his studies and came here, and also why for such a low wage. He looked at me in silence for a few seconds, and then said his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed weekly injections (chemotherapy, perhaps), each of which cost them Rs. 10,000. There was, simply put, no  Government facility nearby where they could access free cancer treatment, so they had to travel over 300 km to the Kamala Nehru Trust Hospital in Allahabad for treatment. There was no money, so Vishal had to stop thinking of applying for college, and travel to Bombay to earn what he could to pay for the treatment, along with his brother. 
The cancer is disseminated, he told me  - his mother had not told anyone about it till the festering wound became too much to conceal. 
I explained as gently as I could that for someone to survive disseminated breast cancer is not easy. And told him that whatever happens, he must try and go back to studying as soon as he can. 

I wonder if he will ever be able to. 

Last night, traveling home from the airport in Bhopal, I asked the driver, a young man, where he was from. He had come to Bhopal three months ago from Ashoknagar where he had been with a travel agency for three years. The owner had eleven cars. When I asked why the move, he said he had had a quarrel with the owner. I did not ask anything more, but then Sushil (name changed) told me what had happened. He had not been paid for two months, he said and when he had asked for his wages, the owner had laughed and said he did not need the money urgently as he was not married. 
I kept begging him for two months, said Sushil - I had my rent to pay, I had to eat, I was supporting my family. When he did not pay me for the third month, I was very angry . When I was driving him somewhere, I stopped the car, pulled him out, and hit him. I hit him with a stone on his head, then with a stick on his back, then I ran away.  
How is the owner now? I asked after a few minutes. 
He got up and drove himself home, and lodged a police complaint. I had to go to Ashoknagar two days ago to appear in court. I explained to the judge what had happened, and the judge said I should have lodged a complaint, not beaten the owner. The next hearing is six weeks from now. 
I told him the same thing- that beating up someone is not the answer, that next time he loses his temper he may kill someone and that will land him in jail. 
Sushil told me he is from Rewa district, his father was a contract labourer for the railways and died suddenly of a heart attack some years ago. He is the oldest and has to provide for the family. From his wage of Rs. 10,000 a month in Rewa he had to support his mother and siblings. When he was not paid, he had to beg the owner of the rented room where he stayed, not to throw him out. He felt ashamed to do this, as well as for the fact that he was not able to send money home. He himself ate once in three days, and survived on cups of tea in between. 
Now in Bhopal he earns Rs. 12,000 a month as a driver, and has taken a one-bedroom flat on rent in a multi (Government built multi-storied houses). The multis have a parking space where he and 12 other drivers keep their cars at night and the colony has a security guard arrangement, so the cars are safe. He is delighted with the running water and electricity, though he has to spend Rs. 2500 on rent each month. His home is open to anyone who comes to Bhopal from Rewa  for Government work or looking for a job. 
Why should they spend money on staying at a hotel when they can ill-afford it? he asked. I can help them this way. At present he has a family of four from Rewa staying in his flat - The woman has a preterm baby (7 months) and they have come to Bhopal for the child's treatment. They need to be here for at least 2 weeks, and I have given them the key to my flat - they can come and go as they please, and cook their own food. 

Would you judge this young man?

 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

A tale of two migrants in Surat

Ramesh Kumar (name changed) is 19, and from Panna district in Madhya Pradesh. His high school certificate states he is Ramesh Kumar Lodhi.  Two years ago, after passing his 12th standard examination, he came to Surat and found work in a factory that makes razais with synthetic fibre. He works one of the machines that produces the fibre, which is then sucked away through a pipe and taken to where the razais are made. 

Fibre produced by the machine is sucked into the pipe seen at bottom right.

On 20th December last year, he was trying to clear out the mouth of the pipe that was clogged with fibre, when his right hand was caught in the machine, as a result of which he has lost all fingers of that hand. The owner refused to pay him any compensation for his injury. I met him two days ago, when he told me he had gone to the Civil Hospital in Surat for a disability certificate but was denied it as his Aadhaar card says he is Ramesh Kumar but does not state his caste. This, despite his Aadhaar card being made in Surat. Ramesh already has an Aadhaar card in in his hometown in Panna district, but like many migrants, he has another one in the city where he works, as otherwise he has no access to any service, including a job, a bank account, or a local SIM card for his phone. (So much for the unique ID of Aadhaar!). Here, though, in spite of having a local Aadhaar card, he was denied the certificate as it did not carry his caste name. When I met him and his father - both are severely underweight - they were still in shock at the turn his life has taken.( The Medical Superintendent agreed to issue a certificate, but only after the Aadhaar card can be validated against another ID proof).

Like Ramesh Kumar, Subhash Gouda (name changed) was also a migrant,though he had moved to this city ten years ago from Ganjam district in Odisha, working in one of the many powerlooms here, producing synthetic textiles. Working twelve hour shifts with no days off, living in crowded conditions, on a poor diet, he was one of the many thousands drawn by the need for a livelihood. He developed tuberculosis and had begun treatment in Odisha, but found it impossible to continue medication here - was it paperwork? was it the time needed to access services? - after working the night shift for 12 hours in deafening noise, most workers sleep the whole day and wake up only in the late evening when the Government hospitals are shut for the day. Those in the day shift start work at 7 am and come out of the loom sheds only at 7 pm - again with no time to go to the hospital. his wife told us that he wanted to get better and each time he was home (once a year), he would start treatment, but it would stop once he when to Surat. As expected, he got sicker and sicker and yesterday developed sudden breathlessness. He was rushed to the hospital where he died within the hour, and was cremated soon after. He was 28 years old.

I saw a photograph of him laid out on a stretcher after his death. A young pale face with straight hair falling over his forehead. I wondered how many thousands and hundreds of thousands like him live and suffer and die, far away from home and family. And thought of his wife and children in Odisha who will never see him again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The nowhere people of Sewage Basti

Along a narrow strip of land between the sewage treatment plant and a canal of the Sabarmati river on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Google earth shows some shadows for about 2 kilometres. If you get to this place on foot, you find it is actually sand dunes, with about a thousand migrants living there for 9 months in the year. They are tribals from Dahod district in Gujarat and from Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh and working as construction workers on daily wages. This settlement is called Sewage basti.
Sewage basti, ringed in red, on the sand strip between the sewage treatment plant and the canal. Sabarmati river seen in bottom half where the froth of water foam from the plant enters.         
When a small group of us visited the settlement at 10 am on a chilly morning last week, several people are returning, walking along the sand dunes after having failed to find work that day. A metro line is coming up on the other side of the canal, and some find work there; others have to go further to a naka, or crossroads and auction the only asset they own: their physical strength. They are adults, teenagers, youth in their twenties, younger children, babies in arms. They sit on the dunes, warming themselves in the sun. 

We meet a group of people in what passes for a street on the sand. This community from Jhabua lives here for nine months in the year, and gets no services. No one visits them here, so our visit generates interest. They are faceless citizens of India here: no services reach them, and not even the police visit to demand their hafta as they do in so many other places. The women get no care during pregnancy: when they are 8 months pregnant they stop working and go back to their village in Madhya Pradesh to deliver their babies. Depending on how long they remain there, their babies may receive two doses of vaccines, or more, or less. The women themselves are unimmunized. The children are all illiterate, having never been to school. Some among the youth have studied up to Standard 5 before they began this life as migrants. With no official identity here, they cannot apply for any benefits at all. During the three months they return home, there is no work for them, they say - perhaps some work as agricultural labourers if they are lucky.

On the days they get work, everyone leaves for the worksite - the older children look after the younger ones, and those a little older help in construction work. 
Some of the Sewage basti migrants from Jhabua who could not get work that day. Behind the group is a house under construction.

Their homes are flimsy, made of branches of the babool that grows there, bent semicircular and embedded in the sand, covered with sheets of polythene. If sufficient polythene cannot be obtained, a thin blanket is used as a substitute.
Homes at the Sewage basti, made of tree branches, thorny twigs, polythene bags and sheets, and sometimes a blanket.


View of Sewage basti from the road. The crane in the background is where work is going on for the metro rail line.
Sewage basti is a community of nowhere people, literally living in a world of their own, and invisible to anyone else. 








Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Weekend at Karangabahla.

I spent last weekend at the CHF run hostel at Karangabahla in Jashpur district in Chhattisgarh. I was visiting it after a gap of over two years, and there were several visible changes. This hostel is run by nuns of the Convent of the Holy Family (originally from Kerala), seven kilometres outside Pathalgaon on the Jashpur road.My husband Ravi and I had gone primarily to visit Priti and Muskaan, who have been there nearly five years now.

Priti and Muskaan with their father Dev Kumar in January 2011
 For those unfamiliar with the two girls, I wrote first about them in late 2010 here and here. The story of their finally reaching Karangabahla in early 2011 is herehere, here and here. The first picture of them in their new school uniform is here, and this is the second picture I have, taken in 2013.

Karangabahla is a small village with perhaps 50 households, and the hostel is set off the road. The convent has a garden around it where vegetables are grown when water is available - these are used in the kitchen for the boarders.

The hostel that housed 42 girls three years ago has expanded to 78 boarders now, stretching the Sisters' resources for space, as well as funds for feeding and housing them.  The nuns, being sensitive to the needs of underprivileged families in the community found it hard to refuse admission to girls who have been orphaned and whose guardians say they are unable to care for them; for younger siblings of older girls already in the hostel; for very poor families who are unable to pay the boarding and lodging costs fully or partially each year. Now they cannot take in any more - depending on the number of senior girls who finish and leave the hostel, they will be able to take in that many girls only. 

In order to accommodate the additional student strength, the nuns have been allotted funds by their house to build an extension over the study room and kitchen which will have two rooms, and a toilet complex. Construction is under way, and funds will need to be found for furniture. An enclosed covered space has already been made for the girls to sleep in during the summer and to hang out their clothes. A portion of this has been enclosed fully to store blankets and mattresses in the summer months.


Thanks to generous contributions from friends and well-wishers, the boarders all have mattresses and blankets for use in winter; a new set of kitchen utensils; a small solar panel that provides solar lighting when they do their homework at night (The entire area, like large parts of rural India, has extensive power-cuts and even if the power does not fail, the voltage is often too low to read by); a generator to pump up water when the power fails or the voltage is poor; and a new toilet block. The studies of seventy of the girls are supported by others - fifty-nine from grants, and eleven from individual donations. None of the girls know who is supporting their studies and boarding, nor are the donors allowed direct, individual interaction with the student they support. Personally I think this is an excellent policy that the nuns follow.

The nuns lead simple lives, five of them live in the convent which is an extension of the hostel. They are careful to see that benefits to the hostel are not utilized by them. This small community has five nuns - one in charge of the hostel, two at the school, one for the dispensary and one in charge. The sisters who teach, as well as Sr Chaitanya (the oldest, and one who is now in charge of the hostel) supervise the homework of the children each evening. The older ones (Standards 6, 7, 8) study mostly on their own, but the younger ones need more supervision and help.

The school within the same compound is run by Diocesan priests and has upto 800 children - a mix of Yadav and Oraon children attend classes Kg to standard 8. After the 8th standard, the girls from the hostel will have to move to one of several hostels in larger towns around.

Priti and Muskaan have settled in well - probably the first time in their lives they have felt secure and been certain where their next meal is coming from. Their father calls every week from Bombay (at least, that is where we think he is). Their mother used to call them too, before she died (according to their father Dev Kumar) of a snake bite two years ago. However, they long to see their father, who has never once visited them in the five years they have been here. They watch with envy when other girls are visited by their parents, or their birthdays are celebrated with the family visiting and often bringing a small cake. No one comes to visit them, nor do they have any place to go to during the holidays. (They are from a place called Akaltara in Janjgir-Champa district of Chhattisgarh. Attempts to contact family there when the girls first joined here were met with a firm refusal to take the responsibility for two girls).

During the holidays, five other girls stay behind with Priti and Muskaan - one girl from Madhya Pradesh who is the fifth girl in the family and whom her family has virtually abandoned here; and four other girls who are orphans and whose guardians express their inability to take care of them during the holidays. They eat along with the Sisters at these times.

Muskaan and Priti outside their hostel, December 2016.


For the older girls, the dormitory is also their study.
Younger girls complete their homework in the study room.
Parents pay for the hostel and the school, though some are able to make only partial payments. Funds for food supplies are allotted partially by their order, some are donated by a few merchants in Pathalgaon, and donations (in cash or kind) are gratefully accepted.  There are four new boarders for whom financial support is sought.

The hostel is a place humming with activity when the children are back from school, and in the early mornings. They have three meals a day, have a set schedule that includes prayer, supervised study time (morning and evening), time set aside for working in the vegetable garden, for play, and for washing and bathing. Occasional picnics are organized by the Sisters to a nearby place.The children seem happy there, and in good health, and all are at the top of their class in studies.

The hostel kitchen serves lunch to 80 additional day students, both boys and girls, who are too poor to bring their own lunch. Almost of all them arrive hungry to school, sometimes after a walk of 8 or 9 kilometres.

 
Action song by the younger girls. 


On receiving their writing kit
Construction of extension wing under way.

Enclosed covered verandah for sleeping and for drying clothes.

The hostel students along with the Sisters, on the terrace of the hostel, December 2016.
The nuns welcome any kind of support to the hostel, financial or in kind - a small gift of money this winter got them all thick sweaters; the gift of a writing kit (pencil case, erase, sharpener, pencil and a box of crayons) had the students delighted. The hostel needs funds for various things - ongoing need of purchasing food supplies (the grant from their parent institution is never quite enough) and scholarship support for four more girls (needs to be ongoing for the duration of their studies in school), and benches and chairs for the study room for the senior girls in the hostel, among other things. Over the next two years, the sisters are looking at installing a solar water heating system for the hostel and convent (at present the children bathe in cold water, even in the cold of winter), as well as solar cookers for the hostel kitchen. Establishing a small library of appropriate reading material in English and Hindi is also needed. Costs are still to be worked out. 

At Christmas time each year, the Sisters organize a party in the hostel for all the children with a special treat. Last year it was scarves for the girls. This year they will get a tiny jar of Vaseline each for their chapped lips. Whatever the nuns can afford to spare from their budget that year determines the gift. 
Playing with balloons during the Christmas party, 2015.
At the end of a year that had little to cheer about, the visit to Karangabahla raised our spirits immeasurably. It is an ongoing tale of hope, of giving poor families the opportunity of a safe space to educate their girls; of empowering these girls and young women for a better future. In this tiny corner of Chhattisgarh, the nuns are quietly doing a remarkable job.