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Homeless find a city with heart

When he is not out looking for employment or donations, Mehraj teaches children at the camp. “I believe this is just a phase and Kashmir will go back to being a happy place. Then I would like to visit Calcutta again, as an employee or a tourist,” he says.

Every visitor to the camp is greeted with a smile. They don’t mind the curious glances, they are only wary about the cameras.

Ghar se dur koi dusre state mein sadak ke paas pada hoon. Mera photo mat lena, please. Agar humare state mein koi dekhega toh kabhi koi kaam nahi milega (I am away in a state where the street is my home. Don’t take my picture, please. If someone back home sees it, I wouldn’t get a job),” pleads a young man.

Almost everyone is apologetic about not being able to show Kashmiri khatirdari (hospitality). “If only you came to meet us in Kashmir,” says a woman.

The responsibility of collecting donations lies with around 25 boys and girls conversant in Hindi. Every morning, they split into small groups and board buses at Dunlop towards different directions.

“Whenever someone gives us an address where we can get some help, we go there,” says student Younis Nadeem (name changed on request).

The Jammu & Kashmir Student Relief Committee makes a list of the donations in cash and kind at the end of the day. The food and the money are then evenly distributed among the families by the eldest member of the camp, called Shah.

But why Calcutta? “We have camps in several cities. This one was set up by traders around three years ago and our numbers have increased because people have gone back and narrated stories about how Calcutta has a big heart,” smiles Younis.

Aparna Moulik, the chairperson of Baranagar Municipality, told Metro that water tankers were being sent to the camp every day.

What message do you have for the displaced Kashmiris? Tell