His touch gives dignity to India’s destitute & dying
Apr 14, 2014
By BP STAFF

PERSONAL TOUCH Auto T. Raja moves among the women at Home of Hope rubbing coconut oil into their hair. They spend much of their day outside. Sun and wind dry out their scalp. Touch is almost unknown among the destitute on Indias streets. Raja takes this time to evaluate each of the 200-plus women who live here and look for any physical and mental changes. BP photo by Will Stuart

BANGALORE, India (BP)—A child died during the night. 

The next morning Auto T. Raja lays a clean white sheet on the floor of an empty room in the children’s hostel and places the frail, lifeless body on it. He cleans dried spittle from her mouth, straightens her clothing and then cradles the body while winding the sheet about it.

Little is known of this little one. Small for her age—maybe 3—one of India’s “throwaway people,” she was found wandering the streets of Bangalore. No one knows who left her there or why. No one claimed her then; there will be no one to claim her body now. 

She lived among 40 other castoff children at Raja’s Home of Hope for nearly a year until tuberculosis took her. They called her Sharon.

Outside the hostel, Raja sweeps 8-month-old Aaron into his arms. Raja nuzzles him and plants kisses about his face. The child grins and grabs for Raja’s ears.

Nearby, Marica—the child’s mother—watches. She mops the tiled courtyard at the entrance of the hostel and grins at the two of them as Raja swings Aaron back and forth in his arms. 

Marica is a pretty teenager. She came here late in her pregnancy, after life—and abuse—on the streets. She is HIV-positive; so far, Aaron is not. Marica has elected to stay at Home of Hope to help care for the other children and raise Aaron here. 

LOVE AND HOPE At the Life at Home of Hope he founded in Bangalore, India, Auto T. Raja nuzzles 8-month-old Aaron. Aaron’s mother came off the streets late in her pregnancy after a life of sexual abuse. She is HIV-positive; so far, Aaron is not. His mother has elected to stay and help care for the other children at the childrens hostel while raising Aaron. BP photo by Will Stuart
For now.

Dignity & comfort

Life and death are intimates here. So are other beginnings and endings. The hostel is part of Home of Hope, which Raja began by bringing one man into his home 16 years ago. Now three facilities house and care for 450 people: one for children, another for women and a third for men.

“Some will be here for a couple hours, others days or weeks or more,” Raja says. “All deserve great dignity in life and death, and comfort. That is my aim.”

Dignity is a hard commodity on India’s streets. Comfort is seldom an option. Those who live there come by choice—a proclivity for drugs or alcohol and easy money to obtain them. Or they come by chance—a child who was one too many for a family to feed, a teenager dragged into the sex trade, an elderly adult whose children decide they can no longer care for, the mentally imbalanced and broken.

Whatever the reason, it is hard and cruel. They are untouchable without regard to caste—disposable, relegated to the dustbin of their society to wander the streets or sit on the side of the road until they die.

Raja is no stranger to the streets. There was a rage in him as a child that led him there. He became a thief and a bully. By the time he was a teenager, he had left home with a fourth-grade education to sleep in railroad stations and sewer pipes and along the side of the road with dogs.

His misadventures became so painful for his parents, they prayed that he would just die. By 16 he was in prison in a city far from home.

It was there he encountered Christ.

Death & breakfast

Across the dirt road that runs by the hostel, past a dusty patch of garden and the catchment—newly dug to capture monsoon rains still months away—someone else has died at the women’s shelter. 

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