14 May, 2021

Midnight's Orphans

Fifty years after, thousands of poor Sindhis still live in refugee camps across India. Continuing our series on people untouched by elections, Outlook visits the oldest...

Midnight's Orphans
A broken blade glides over calloused fingers as Bhagwanti slices bottlecaps into shape. A 1,000 caps later she would have earned exactly Rs 2. But she is among the more fortunate ones. Her neighbour, 80-year-old Chanchal Sugunamal, is knocked about by her mentally disturbed son. In rare moments of sanity, he steals her Rs 250 monthly dole. She latches the tin door within her shed, to protect herself from him and the pigs rushing in from the nearby garbage dump.

Welcome to Shanti Bhavan, the shelter of remnant Sindhi refugees who came to India during Partition. Sugunamal, among the oldest here, arrived in Bombay from Shikarpur in the erstwhile Sukkur district of Upper Sind, seeking a home. Fifty years later, all she has is promises. The government is marking time. Her death would release into its hands the tiny asbestos-concrete shed it had pledged to her. "Don't worry about them," comments one government officer, "the politicians will be back, distributing chits of paper with signatures that are supposed to legalise their homes."

 Sundar Khatri, 40, has...

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