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Homelessness In India: A Stark Reality

Posted on October 6, 2011 in Society

By Arushi Gupta:

The security of a home is something we often take for granted. We don’t value the presence of a roof over our heads where we are sheltered from the dangers and perils that the world throws at us. Spending one day like in the life of a person who has no home, is homeless, would be enough to make us realize the worth of one.

The 2001 census shows the number of urban homeless in India being around 7, 78599, however, it has been 10 years hence and it is now estimated that the number has grown exponentially and is crossing millions. These people have no access to water, health or sanitation and education is a faraway dream.

So, where do these people come from? And why are the numbers swelling the way they are?

Most of the homeless in Delhi comprise of migrants, coming from rural areas, looking for work but a lot also enter from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal. The migrants include both skilled and unskilled labourers. They pull rickshaws, work in dhabas or tea stalls, work on construction sites and learn carpentry or painting. More and more people are coming into the city, looking for work and hoping that their dreams have a better chance of actualizing with the resources the city has to offer. They come to earn a better livelihood and increase their standard of living.

ActionAid’s Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan (Shelter Rights Campaign) is the first of its kind to provide shelters for the homeless. It was one of the initial organizations to take up this issue and lobbying with the government, setting up campaigns and eventually managing to make everyone sit and take notice of the situation.

It is a site that is not alien to us. We witness people sitting under flyovers, having made some sort of home for themselves there. But for most of us, it is a case of out of sight, out of mind. How many times have we ever actually thought back and felt empathy and compassion for those who aren’t as fortunate enough to even have a roof over their head and four walls around them? I know that I didn’t, not until very recently and when I asked people around me, they hadn’t either.

That’s not to say we and the rest of society isin’t concerned. It’s all about awareness and an initiative. People are wrong in thinking and assuming that money is the only way to provide for the homeless people. Donations, small or big, in the form of kind are always capable of being put to much better use. Old mattresses, blankets, clothes are much needed during the winter time. There is no dearth of media reports that inform of us the number of people that die due to the cold waves that hit the capital in winter months. People can approach NGO’s that are always looking for professional skills to reach out and help the less fortunate. Teachers, IT people, doctors etc are always valued in such areas.

Unfortunately, as I have only recently become aware, there is no scarcity of problems around us. One only seems bigger than the other and we often grapple with what and how we can contribute and make a difference. But we can and that’s the beauty of it. All we need to do is to find an issue that we feel passionate about and take it up seriously. Homelessness is one of those problems that need greater recognition.

As a campaigner from ActionAid put it “It is important that that we see a homeless as a human first and the issue of homelessness as a problem of the society at large. They don’t need sympathy but a life with dignity and respect. Every one has a right to shelter. It needs a collective effort by the government, NGOs, and every citizen to ensure that this right is protected and promoted. Every single effort counts.”