The journey home, to a tomorrow of hope and promise

Representative purpose only. Illustration - Prathap Ravishankar

This August, Bijoy Harpal, a resident of Bolangir, Odisha, received a call from Chennai’s Little Hearts Home with news about his long-lost aunt. Maya (45), a distant relative, had gone missing from her home in Jharkhand's Jamshedpur almost 13 years ago.

“She was living with her father and brother in Jamshedpur in 2006 when she went missing. We had assumed that she was dead and had even performed her last rites,” Harpal says, adding that when informed about her, he was told that "she recollects that she originally hails from Bolangir".

Maya is among thousands who meander out of home due to mental illness compounded by personal issues, and in most cases poverty. Listless and lost, they are found several thousands of kilometres away in other cities like Chennai, which is a major transit point on railway routes.

Like Maya, Malini (name changed) too had left her home in Mumbai and ended up in a night shelter managed by the Greater Chennai Corporation, along with others like her from different parts of the country. For her, the trigger was the marriage arranged by her family against her wishes. She wanted to marry someone else, Malini, in her 20s, says. She was found walking in and around Chennai Central station for a few days before the Railway Police Force sent her to the shelter.

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