Bengaluru houses over one crore people and its status of being the IT capital makes it one of the most sought-after cities in the country. But just like any other city, Bengaluru too has a dark side — abandoned senior citizens and children. But one man, for the past 25 years, has been a messiah for such people; meet Auto Raja.
Born as Thomas Raja, the world knows him as Auto Raja, a guardian of as many as 800 homeless people who were abandoned by their families. He provides them shelter, food and medical facilities in New Ark Mission of India at Doddagubbi village in the outskirts of Bengaluru. Besides providing shelter to senior citizens, he also provides education to abandoned children.
Auto Raja’s life did not have a picture-perfect start. Initially, he was involved in crimes like theft and has also been sent to a juvenile home once before he turned 18. At 16, he was kicked out of his home after his father came to know that Raja was a thief.
After he returned from the juvenile home, Raja wanted to start living an honest life and thus began driving an auto-rickshaw. It was during this time when he came across the plight of abandoned senior citizens on the roadsides. Once, he brought with him a destitute woman and provided her shelter in the space he used for parking his auto-rickshaw. He provided her with a haircut and cleaned her wounds. A few days later, he saw a smile on the old woman’s face, something that changed his life. It is at that moment he decided to help whoever needed shelter and thus was born Auto Raja.
“Initially I started with 13 inmates and later, the shelter went on to become New Ark Mission with the help of donors and the government. Initially people laughed at me and when I started receiving funds, they thought I was sending photos of the homeless to foreign countries to get funds. But as days went by, they realized that I was on a mission which they never imagined,” Auto Raja told The Indian Express.
Auto Raja said most of the people at the shelter home are abandoned elderly citizens whose family members are annoyed with them. “Many of them become like children. Some of them talk too much or some suffer from age-related diseases or illnesses like Tuberculosis. It is for these reasons that their family members abandon them and these family members are none other than their children or grandchildren,” said Auto Raja.
He added, “In a month, on average, around 40-50 homeless people come to our shelter home. The police, NGOs and other volunteers provide us with information about them and we bring them. Many senior citizens die here, so whenever we go, we try to do our best to fulfill their wishes. Senior citizens who have suffered immensely find happiness in small things in the last leg of their lives. One person who was on the death bed had asked for masala dosa and we made sure it was arranged.”
On the funding part, Auto Raja said there are companies and volunteer organizations that fund them. “During Covid-19 it had become hard but with God’s grace, we got ration kits and other facilities but finding hospitals and getting the inmates treated were a big challenge,” he said.
There have been a lot of people who found a new ray of hope at Auto Raja’s shelter home. One among them is Veena who currently takes care of the elderly citizens at the center.
Veena, a resident of Doddaballapura, a few years ago lost her husband and was thrown out of her house. She had sustained a head injury as well. She was roaming in the Bengaluru railway station along with her son and the police informed Auto Raja. Veena said she felt she was reborn after she met him, who provided her food and shelter and ensured her son gets educated. “I somehow managed to learn the basics of nursing and now I serve at Auto Raja’s shelter home. My son now studies in the sixth standard,” said a smiling Veena.
Auto Raja, who claims to be the first digital beggar, said he wants to build a nursing college to provide education to the destitute children whom he rescued so that they can continue to treat and help the destitute at his center. “Some of the schools in the locality help us by providing free education but it is hard for us to afford higher education,” he said.
“I appeal to the public to donate at least Re 1 each day which can help many elderly citizens who are abandoned in a bad condition on the roads. If the government supports, even today I am ready to make Bengaluru a beggar-free city,” Auto Raja said.