Hunger and poverty can lead a person to make unexpected decisions.
For 18-year-old Dev Dass Goswami, it was the two issues combined with the apathy he witnessed in his fellow human beings that made him take a pledge to one day, provide food to as many hungry people as possible.
Hailing from a poor family in Haryana, Goswami used to juggle studies and jobs to make ends meet.
One day in 1978, he left home. He was at the railway station, penniless and hungry, and requested someone for a puri at a stall.
Seeing his pitiful condition, the person gave it to him.
But when he asked for one more, the person got angry and abused him. The incident deeply scarred the young man, and that is when he made that promise to himself.
Eventually, Goswami started working as a truck driver. He encountered several homeless people during his travels and was deeply affected by their pitiable state.
However, what bothered him most were the corpses that he found along the highways. They belonged to people who had been run over by vehicles, and their bodies had no takers.
Goswami decided to become the undertaker for those nameless and faceless people.
“More often than not, these bodies were mangled beyond recognition. I’d stop my vehicle, carry the bodies and carry out a proper burial. In addition to that, I started providing food and water to people I would meet during my drives through the highway,” says Goswami to The Better India.
Goswami’s humanitarian endeavour took a significant turn when he decided that just feeding the homeless wasn’t enough.
He would give them a makeover as well.
“Giving a bath and then a haircut gave them a face and with that, an identity that the society seldom provides to the homeless. Seeing them smile after their makeover gave me a sense of purpose in life that I decided this is precisely what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he remembers.
In 1984, Goswami got married to Tara, who was so moved by his selflessness and commitment that she too decided to devote her entire life to the cause.
For the last 35 years, the couple has bathed, fed and sheltered approximately over a hundred people.
Goswami is particularly proud of his wife. He believes she is perhaps the only woman in the world, who has carried dead bodies on her shoulders.
“In fact, I’m certain that she is the only one, who has assumed this responsibility with no discrimination of faith or gender,” he mentions proudly.
The duo has been doing all this work mostly with their own money, and are also helped by the monetary contributions of people who were moved by their steadfast service to the homeless.
In 1992, the couple decided to open a shelter where they could house these folks, and by 2008, it was registered as a non-profit organisation named DAVO.
Currently, they run two homes for the homeless. One is in Dwarka, New Delhi and houses 60 people, and the other is in Sonipat and houses 70 people. While Tara takes responsibility of the former shelter, Dev travels daily and looks after the home in Sonipat.
While talking to us, Goswami shares a heartwarming anecdote.
“Four years ago, I was planning to sell my own house for ₹10 lakh to buy a plot in Gurgaon for a shelter. Somehow the word spread and a kind soul reached out to me, all the way from Japan and requested me to refrain from going forward. A month later, he came to meet me, and after enquiring about how much amount was required, he donated ₹25 lakh.”
Contributions like these have helped the elderly couple sustain their humanitarian services through the years. Today they have a small team—which includes two cooks and a barber.
“There was a time when I would cut their hair. I’ve donned the role of a barber too!” laughs Goswami.
To help the inmates open up and mingle with each other, Goswami is using sports as a solution.
“After living on streets for years, most of these people have become suspicious and reclusive. I used to play football when I was a kid, and I thought that it would be a good way to help them heal and connect with each other. We have made arrangements for football, kabaddi as well as wrestling. While I’ve taken up the coaching duty for football, we have employed a coach for the other sports,” shares Goswami.
While the couple has managed to provide food and shelter to the people in the shelters, medical attention is a major problem. Most of them are quite sick by the time they are brought to DAVO, and getting a doctor to visit the premises on a regular basis, is expensive.
To counter this crisis, DAVO is raising funds for a dispensary that will provide medicines, as well as arrange for a doctor to visit their home on a regular basis.
If you are inspired by Dev Dass and Tara Goswami’s magnanimous service to the homeless and the destitute, and wish to help through monetary contributions, here are the details:
To know more about the work that they do, you can look up DAVO’s Facebook page.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)