They can be found on every road. They can be found on every street. They can be found on bridges, next to pipes, on the footpath, even near garbage. They are India’s homeless population. The Government defines a homeless person as one who lives in “the open or roadside, pavements, in hume-pipes, under flyovers and staircases, or in the open in places of worship, mandaps, railway platforms etc.” Currently, there are more than 1.77 million homeless people in India.
Yet whenever we step out of the comfort of our lavish homes and warm, safe houses - we see people desperately trying to make ends meet. Some of us spare a little change, most just turn their heads and look the other way. Only very rarely would you see another person trying to avidly take interest in a homeless person and try to help them turn their life around. One of these people is T. Raja, fondly known as Auto Raja. Raja believes that one shouldn’t need to wait for a Mother Teresa to come from another country to help the people of India, one should find that strength within themselves - and so, he is also fondly known as 'Mother Teresa of Karnataka'.
Raja’s life growing up is not what you’d expect to see from a social worker. He dropped out of school in the 3rd grade and fell into bad company. From quite a tender age, he started engaging in drinking and gambling and even started to steal to support these vices. Eventually he ended up stealing from his family who then disowned him, going as far as to say ‘If you end up dying, it’ll be a blessing upon our family’. Raja lived on the streets for two years, sleeping on the pavement, under flyovers and even among garbage bins and rabid dogs that constantly whined around him. He moved from Bengaluru to Chennai and continued his ways. Eventually he was caught for his crimes and sent to jail - the Central Prison in Chennai, where he came to terms with the man he had become and started to turn his life around.
Raja embraced his religion, Christianity, and started carrying out what he believes is Christ’s work. From just a petty thief to a good Samaritan and a sort of messiah for the people of Karnataka – Raja’s life post arrest underwent a transformation when he realised his profound happiness in helping others.
After he left prison, Raja returned to Bangalore. He began his new life driving autos to support himself. After he had enough money, he set up the New Ark Mission of India, also known as NAMI in 1997. His aim was to help the dying and the destitute.
Raja’s very first rescue was a woman he saved at SP Road. The woman was half naked and covered in fleas. Maggots were chewing on two of her toes. Raja brought her home in his auto and that’s how his journey of saving the destitute began. He shaves them, bathes them, clean their wounds, provides them with new clothes and a big meal. “Some are so weak that they can barely move,” Raja says.“Those who manage to, have to compete with street dogs over leftovers in the trash. Most of them, rejected by their families, are living the most inhumane lives. When I come across such people, I bring them to the Home of Hope, a hospice under NAMI. Raja's Home of Hope now feeds more than 700 people. Raja’s aim is to have more than a thousand residents at his home. They provide medical assistance, meals and even education to the homeless children that they bring on board. Raja’s home survives on donations from champions, however so far gets no financial support from the Government.
Auto Raja has rescued over 10,000 beggars from the streets of Bengaluru and those who are destitutes, over the past 20 years. He was honored by the Real Heroes Award, a social initiative by CNN-IBN and Reliance Industries. The award aims to honour Indians who contribute highly to the society.
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