Bengaluru houses a number of people who come from different walks of life. But just like any other place, 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; locals call him Auto Raja.
A messiah for the abandoned
For the City’s homeless, the name Auto Raja brings a smile, and a ray of hope. The social worker, well known for his orphanage, Home of Hope, has about 800 people including needy, homeless aged persons, and physically challenged people.
Born as Thomas Raja, the world knows him as Auto Raja. He provides the needy people with shelter, food, and medical facilities in New Ark Mission of India at Doddagubbi village on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Besides providing shelter to senior citizens, he also provides education to abandoned children.
Nevertheless, Auto Raja’s life did not have a picture-perfect beginning. 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 therefore began driving an auto-rickshaw. It was during this time that he came across the dilemma of abandoned senior citizens on the roadsides.
Once, he brought with him a broke 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.
“At first 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.
Helping the senior citizens
Auto Raja further spoke about the senior citizens who were left abandoned. He said that these people were abandoned because their family members were 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 an 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 whatever time we get, 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 life. One person who was on the death bed had asked for masala dosa and we made sure it was arranged.”
Veena, a citizen of Doddaballapura, a few years ago lost her husband and was thrown out of her house. She had got 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 assured 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,” a smiling Veena said.
Auto Raja said he wants to build a nursing college to provide education to the underprivileged children who he rescued so that they can continue to treat and help the needy 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.
Till now, Auto Raja has saved close to 20,000 people from the streets. On the funding part, he revealed that 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 was a big challenge,” 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 me, even today I am ready to make Bengaluru a beggar-free city,” Auto Raja said.