They call themselves the descendants of Maharana Pratap and his army, the gadai lohars (blacksmiths) from Chittorgarh of Rajasthan.

“Our ancestors lived the life of nomads, going from village to village, making iron implements. They would camp for a month or so in a village and then go bag-and-baggage to yet another village. This went on for decades before they migrated to other States like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi.

“My great-grandfather came to Delhi like many others. I was born on the road and will die here on the road. Though brought up in Delhi’s Palam area, I and others of my generation live like nomads with no place to call our own,” says Sanjay, a gadai lohar .

He laments that they live from hand to mouth. “Mine is the fourth generation, unsettled and living on the roads or in empty spaces.” Members of his clan dig small pits on roadsides and melt iron in the makeshift furnace to hammer out daily-use implements.

The women cook food on the same furnace. “ Sapna to hamara bhi hai ke apna ek makan ho , chahe 25 gaz ka hi , par yeh kese hopayega (We too dream of building our own house, howsoever small. But we are destined to live and work on the roads).”

According to popular legend, when Maharana Pratap was defeated in Chittorgarh, his army vowed to never go back, hence the town is out of bounds for the gadai lohar community.

“We have no roots, no village that we can call our own,” says Sher Singh from the same community, before breaking into a philosophical quip. “ Wahan to sou man ka tala laga hai aur yehan salon bad bhi hum sadak par pade hai (Chittorgarh is no more a home for us, nor are any other cities. We have never been able to settle down and steer away from a nomadic life).”

Unlike Sanjay who has never been to Rajasthan, Sher Singh says his family sometimes visits the State. But he too expresses regret at being a nomad and says the government has not done anything for them.

“We even protested at Jantar Mantar along with other nomadic tribes to press for our demands for jobs and land, but who will listen to us?”

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi