Skip to main content

Lohars: from Roadside Camps to Paris Ramps #atozchallenge

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I’m blogging 26 days in April based on the alphabet and bringing you stories from the nonprofit Project Why.

Project Why’s relationship with the Lohars of Rana Pratap Camp dates back to 2003 when it opened a center for the children of this gypsy camp. The question that begs response is : who are the Lohars of Rana Pratap Camp? Those of you who live in Delhi must have zipped past them. They live on Delhi’s roadsides, often selling ironware. 1000 families of the nomadic tribe, Gadiya Lohars, stopped wandering half a century or so ago and settled in Delhi, 30 of them near the Kalkaji bus depot.

Damyanti Biswas covers the Nonprofit Project why based in New Delhi India, for her A to Z Blogging Challenge in April 2016 The sight of their small, bright-eyed children running about and breathing the fumes of cars revving up at the red light caught the attention of Project Why. After a chat with Tau, the head of the clan, the Project Why Lohar center opened its doors.

Tau told Project Why that politicians had got Voter’s ID cards for these people living in the most deprived conditions, and promised them relocation and proper housing. Most of the papers had been lost as camps such as theirs were regularly destroyed and rebuilt after paying a bribe to the authorities, since 1985, when they first arrived.

Damyanti Biswas covers the Nonprofit Project why based in New Delhi India, for her A to Z Blogging Challenge in April 2016The reason the Lohar Center doesn’t exist anymore is that in 2010 when the Commonwealth Games were held in Delhi, the camp was razed to the ground and Project Why’s Lohar friends were scattered. They left behind memories.

Project Why did not veer from its stated policy and employed two young women from the camp as crèche teachers. When one of them left, she requested Project Why to give her job to her brother Sanjay, who had joined the Project classes and gone on to complete his schooling. He was fit to be a primary teacher, and was taken on. But his story does not end there.

A French filmmaker visiting Project Why liked the story of a boy born on the roadside who became a teacher, and made a documentary on Sanjay’s life. In the course of the filming, Sanjay revealed his dream on camera: to make it to Bollywood. It was not to be films, but that documentary led Sanjay Padiyar to the fashion ramp. In 2010, Sanjay walked the ramp for a top designer.

Damyanti Biswas covers the Nonprofit Project why based in New Delhi India, for her A to Z Blogging Challenge in April 2016In June 2011, Sanjay walked for Agnès B at her Paris Show, and has become a poster child of rags to riches.

But the Lohar boy hasn’t lost his ways and the wisdom of his people. When asked on the eve of his show whether he was nervous pat came the answer: “Chalna hi toh hai. Do saal ki ummar se kar raha hoon (All I have to do is walk. I’ve been doing that since I was two).

 Would you like to visit Project Why, where a slum child becomes a teacher and then a ramp model? If you cannot make it to New Delhi, would you donate to bring a smile to a child’s face? What would you say to Sanjay and to Project Why?

To Donate to Special Section of Project Why, CLICK HERE.
To Contact Project Why, Click Here

Please join Daily (w)rite on its Facebook Page if you’d like to be heard by this community. If you liked this post, you can have biweekly posts delivered to your inbox: click the SUBSCRIBE button in the sidebar. The daily posts are only for April: I’m doing 26 posts on the fab nonprofit Project Why for my A to Z Challenge.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  • macjam47 says:

    A beautiful and heartwarming story.

  • Hart Johnson says:

    Teachers can make such a big difference. I wish though, there was something even bigger for these… can you call them communities if they sort of lack a location? Education provides hope though.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Project Why starts small, but the hopes and dreams are big. We’re hoping for donations to support this small organization with a big heart.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – an amazing story that’s still continuing on … and I bet he’s making a huge difference to the people he’s ‘left behind’ … he’ll be helping so many … wonderful – I hope you’ll be able to continue his story … so we can keep up with his progress … so good to read – cheers Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Project Why will follow his progress as he grows, Hilary! Thank you for stopping by at each post and your always-kind comments.

  • Peter Nena says:

    Strength, hope, love and compassion. The cornerstones of Project Why.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Indeed, Peter. Project Why is all about big stories of what the world considers small people.

  • Birgit says:

    This is a wonderful story of success, willpower and persistence. Great story you informed us about.

  • I’ve seen many who were born into circumstances where there appeared to be no help and no future. But a few decided they would not be satisfied to be locked into historical poverty and helplessness and in spite of mountains of difficulty made it to high positions of education and business. Some had a helping hand along the way and some clawed their own way to the top.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yes, Ian. At Project Why there are so many who have broken the cycle of poverty. We’re trying to help as many of them break it as possible—for which we need to raise essential funds.

  • dweezer19 says:

    What a beautiful success story! And such lovely faces. ?

  • Joy says:

    Love these stories!! And yes, I would love to be involved in something like that. Thanks for sharing as always.

    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  • These truly are the beautiful people, because they live life in the only way they know how: with a smile and a cheerful disposition. Can’t go far wrong with that! And I love Sanjay’s quote, “All I have to do is walk.” Simple, yet effective.

  • StuHN says:

    Tweeted and shared on Facebook.

  • cleemckenzie says:

    So to make things look nice and tidy, the government got rid on the project site. Lovely. However, it seems that the spirit of the project can’t be destroyed and that’s a wonderful message.

  • franklparker says:

    Thanks for another inspiring installment in your series about Project Why.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for reading. I’m traveling so am not very regular with the responses, but I’ll be back to my blogging normal soon!

  • I am constantly amazed at how happy certain groups look, who lead their own lives, unimpeded by government, with a little help from friends (like Project Why). Good story–again–Damyanti.

    • This is why our community based model is so important to Project Why. We embrace what the students already value and the skills they already have rather than try and turn them into something they aren’t.