At their shelters, women find a home

Praveen pulls her shawl closer to stop herself from shivering and points to a low brick wall, which seems to be on the verge of collapse. This, she says, is where she bathes — even in this biting cold. For the night, Praveen takes refuge at the night shelter for women near Gurdwara Bangla Sahib.

The wall, which is the only cover for women bathing there, was built by the women and reaches up to waist. It faces the men's shelter.

Praveen does not remember her age. She says she ran away from her "abusive" husband in Aligarh, and came to Delhi with her two boys Qurram (12) and Ali (4). She has been living at the shelter for the past three months.

The shelter's caretaker claims that the facility has been running since the past two years.

"During the day, I go to Hanuman Mandir to beg for food or we depend on the langar at the gurdwara. Till 2011, I was living in a night shelter near Hanuman Mandir, which was burnt down. I then had to go back to Aligarh for a while,'' Praveen says.

She recalls the night of November 18, 2011, when a fire reduced the Hanuman Mandir shelter to ashes and burnt to death nine-year-old Vijitha. "There is a mobile bathroom that we can use, but bathing is a major problem for women,'' Praveen says.

The women who have been living at the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib shelter, return every year. "We don't let anyone else come here,'' Sita says. She lives at the shelter with her 10-year-old son, Karan.

The shelter can house 60 women and, on most days, the officials have to turn women away.

Seven-year-old Samna walks in crying — could be the cold or may be it was fight with other children. All she wants to say is that she goes "to a school nearby''.

... contd.

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