If we exist then He exists; if we do not then how can He!
(on the existence God)
Tau Head of the Rana Pratap Lohar Camp

“Have you ever met someone for the first time, but in your heart you feel as if you’ve met them before?” wrote JoAnne Kendrick.  This is exactly the feeling Project Why had when it first saw the Lohars of Rana Pratap camp.

The Lohars are a nomadic Indian tribe of ironsmiths. They hail from Rajasthan (Chittorgarh) where they accompanied the ruler in battle to repair arms and shoe horses. When Maharana Pratap Singh lost the battle of Haldigath in 1576 and went into exile, the Gadia Lohars swore to wander and never settle. And they have been wandering ever since.  After independence in 1947, about 100 clans came to Delhi and settled in different parts of the city, along roadsides where they continued to practice their trades and live under the sky. One such camp was located close to Project Why.

It was in 2005 that Project Why first saw the children of the camp and was completely bowled over. These were bright kids with sparkling, eager eyes and smiles to die for. Unlike other children they seemed fearless and eager to connect. Here was another Why that needed to be answered but there was a hitch: convince Tau, the Head of the Clan.

It took a few minutes for Anou to succumb to the wisdom and kindness of this gentle soul. An unlikely yet real friendship was born between them. For the 5 years the camp remained standing, Anou would often go missing to be found sipping tea and in deep conversation with Tau.

Life in these makeshift camps in not easy. The camp is located next to a red light where cars rev and the air is foul. And yet over 100 people, old and young lived there with utmost dignity. They never stopped smiling. Never mind if water had to be carried across a busy road; never mind if every so often the authorities came and destroyed the camp in a cat and mouse game that had its own rules; never mind the bitter cold or scorching heat that entered their flimsy homes. Life was a celebration and who better than gypsies to celebrate life to its fullest.

If the men beat the iron it is left to the women to sell the wares. The money collected would determine what would be eaten in the evening.

Project Why ran a creche and a primary centre for the children of this camp and it was a joy to teach these eager beavers.

That is not where it ends. The plight of these people and the discovery that there were promises made to them- as validated by the few scraps of official papers that had survived the many destructions of the camp- led Project Why to taken on its first activist challenge. A PIL (public interest litigation) was filed in the High Court. Sadly nothing came of it.

The Lohars of Rana Pratap camp survived many destructions but the Commonwealth Games in 2010 would be their nemesis, as the camp would be destroyed and the 30 odd families scattered across the city.

The stretch of road where they lived that was such a vibrant and happy place is now a stretch of sidewalk. Each time one drives past, one is overwhelmed by a feeling of loss and sadness. The Lohars are missed dearly by all at Project Why.

Nomads always move on, don’t they

You can share some glimpses of their lives in these images.

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