The connection between these three would seem far-fetched to anyone. It did to me too as I strolled down a by lane in one of South Delhi’s posh areas, looking for a chai walla (tea seller) who I was told sat there.
The cool evening, the soft March spring breeze and the wonderful smell of green in the air increased my urge for tea. As I approached the chai walla I smelt hot boiled eggs on the way and stopped to have some. I then walked a few quick steps for my chai. “Ek phiki chai, please”(one tea without sugar) I told the chai wala. “Didi thoda time legega.” (It will take a little time) I was happy to stroll around and absorb my surroundings. There was a host of pavement stalls- a guy selling belts, hankies and other odds and ends, 2 chai wallas, busily pouring hot tea into glasses for a handful of youngsters, a guy selling boiled eggs and a middle aged lady sitting in her khoka (stall) selling namkeens (savouries). Working with an NGO, I wondered if they were able to earn enough for their families, whether their children went to school, where they lived.............
My thoughts were broken with “Didi chai.” I finally got my tea – the fragrance of freshly pounded adrakh (ginger) and elaichi (cardamom) was intoxicating and everything else escaped me. But not for long. As I sipped my tea I saw three policemen, one really burly, walk menacingly towards the chai wallas. Arms akimbo, they seemed to be questioning them about something. Feeling a little annoyed, I was itching to ask what was wrong. Mustering courage, I finally went up to the burly official and found out that “Kisi ke teen lakh rupai chori hogaye hain. Isi galli se.” ( someone has been robbed of Rs. 3 lakhs) My next obvious question – “Apko kaise pata in logo ne leye hai?” (How do you know they have stolen it?)
I was told by Mr. Burly that an investigation was necessary. By this time he was threatening the lady in the khoka (Padma – name changed) that if she did not have her MCD licence by the next day he would remove it completely.
My courage suddenly soared – I think the kadak (strong) chai had something to do with it! I told him he could do all the investigation he wanted but he could not strip them of their dignity and he could not take away their rozi roti.(livelihood) “Unka bhi to parivar hai, bacche hai. Ye mehnat karke paise kamate hain. Aap inka nuksan nahi kar sakte.” (they also have families and children. They work hard and earn a little money. You cannot harm them).
By this time, Mr. Burly had had enough of me and said, “Mere pas apki baton ke liye itne energy nahi hai. Yeh mere purview mein nahin hai. Aap ACP se baat karo.” (I don’t have enery for your discussion. It is not in my purview. Please sepak to the ACP-Assistant Commissioner of Police). Off I trotted to the ACP’s office and I was pleasantly surprised to be treated well!
I shared my annoyance and the grave injustice that was happening with the ACP. He heard me out and at the very end said, “maine he order diya hai.Yeh encroachment ka mamla bhi hai.”(I gave the orders. It is also a matter of encroachment). I wanted to laugh out loud but managed to restrain my urge. Instead, with a subtle degree of sarcasm I asked him to visit my colony – a posh locality but in name only- jaha sabne apne ghar ke bahar ped, paudhe, phool, gamle rakhe hai. Kya ye encroachment nahin hai? (where everyone has encroached land by growing trees, flowers outside their homes). Unfazed ACP said, “Madam yeh hamare purview mein nahin hain.Aap LG se baat kariye.” (this is not in my purview. You speak to the LG). “What’s LG?” I wondered. Lieutenant Governor he clarified seeing my confusion on my face. “Ab to wohi Delhi chalte hai,.” (now he runs Delhi) he hastily offered in case I didn’t know.
Well it was already past 8 and I was sure LG wouldn’t be available then, so I could only seek an appointment the next day. I hailed an auto and went home wondering if would really to help my new found friends and stop them from losing their jobs and their children an education and the very basics of food and shelter.
I couldn’t muster the drive to go to LG the next day . I kept thinking about Padma and the others but went about my daily routine. About a week later I went to the by lane again and was greeted with smiles and hugs by my friends. “Didi abke wajhe se police ne kuch nahi kiya.” My chai walla said, Padma aur mujhe licence bhi mil gaya”. (Because of you the police did not harm us. Padma and I also got our licence). Padma wasn’t there but her young son, probably just about entering his teens was at sitting at the stall with a smile on his face.
They believed I had helped them but I am still doubtful that it all due to me. Yes I did raise a small spark but they took on and lit the fire. The fire of hope and not bending down to injustice.
Child Rights Activist.