Gajender Pratap is a 50-year-old who resides in Safeda Basti, an informal settlement located in the East of Delhi. He originally belongs to a small village in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh. Gajender remembers his childhood as a daily struggle, with 7 siblings in the family and parents who worked as farmless farmers.
Gajender’s parents barely earned anything, and the large family had to make do with the little they had. This meant that Gajender and his siblings never went to school and worked in the farms to help with the family income. ‘’I started working in the farms when I was 10 years old, it was difficult and tiring, but we had no other choice’’, says Gajender.
In the early 1980s, Gajender decided to try his luck in New Delhi like many other young men from his village. At the young age of 14, he travelled to Delhi for work and never went back home. Initially, he had difficulty finding work and slept on road pavements with empty stomach on most days. Soon, he found work as a labourer and started earning Rs 150 (1.97 USD or 1.59 £) a day.
His work was located near Safeda Basti which lead him to settle down there. Gajender built himself a shanty of old plastic sacks and wood to live in. As the years passed, he got married and became a father to 5 children. As his own family grew, his troubles grew, as there were more mouths to feed. Gajender wanted his eldest children to receive an education, however, they all dropped out of school before the 10th standard. In few years, his 2 eldest sons and elder daughter got married and started living on their own. Around the same time, his health deteriorated, he was diagnosed with Asthma. However, Gajender had to continue working to provide for his wife and 2 younger children.
When the lockdown was suddenly imposed in India in the last week of March, Gajender’s hopes and dreams for his family came crashing down. With no savings whatsoever, he felt utterly hopeless. Around the same time, Asha’s Chanderpuri team had started targeting the neediest families and sick people in their slums to help. Within a few days of the lockdown, the Asha team reached out to Gajender and his family to provide them with required financial aid.
‘’I could not work after the lockdown. My family was surviving on the last stock of groceries left at home. With Asha’s help now I can buy some ration finally, thank you,’’ says Gajender teary-eyed. Asha field teams and Asha corona warriors are continuously working and raising awareness against COVID-19 along with providing groceries, financial aid to the slum dwellers during this pandemic.
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