By Preetika Bhateja:
Imrana chases a tractor that brings sacks full of rice. She is one of the 40,000 victims of Muzzafarnagar riots. She somehow manages to get food for her family of five. Four months back, she lost a son who succumbed to pneumonia. When NGO’s come and offer clothes, she scavenges to find anything from the tattered lot. “I had everything back home but the riots took it all away and I ended up on the footpath” she says.
This is the story of millions of Imranas living on the streets. You will find them around bonfires under flyovers, ducked in their rickshaws and huddled in groups along pavements, market places and temples. Some of them had a home and others were born on the streets itself. They all have different reasons for this deplorable plight; adverse poverty, unemployment, communal riots, trafficking, sexual abuse, physical and mental disabilities are just a few of them. Some kids who run away from their homes are forced into physical labour, working as rag pickers or selling flowers and end up living on streets. Disasters like cyclones and floods sweep off the livelihoods, cyclone ‘Phailin’ damaged 200,000 houses affecting 9 million people in India. Some residents are forced to relocate due to Government orders when a new metro line or a flyover project is undertaken. But the compensation promised is not enough and they end up homeless. They work as cheap labour in factories, as waiters, maids or sweepers for nominal wages. The police pick them up, lock them behind bars, the women are molested and raped, kids strip searched for robbery cases. They lead hellish lives.
On July 2010 a woman named Lakshmi gave birth to a baby girl on the streets of Delhi. She had no help from any hospital or the citizens, and gaveÂ birth on her own even pulling the child forcefully to cut the umbilical cord. She breathed her last after giving birth. This case was highlighted by the media and HC Chief Justice initiated a suo moto in this context, blaming the Municipal Corporations for not making enough shelters for the homeless and denying them their basic rights. The purpose of this was also to order MCD to demarcate exclusive shelter homes for pregnant women. This led to an increase in the number of shelters. Till 2013, Delhi had 175 shelters. The AAP government intervened and the count rose to 240. But most of these shelters don’t run on a 24 hour basis. Some are portable cabins, tents and a few permanent. They lack the basic facilities such as food, sanitation, education and healthcare. But this was just one case of Delhi where 1% of the population are homeless. 78 million people are homeless in India. Different states have different measures for keeping track of its homeless. Chennai uses smart cards, Bangalore and Delhi have collaborated with NGO’s, most state governments offer compensation and launch schemes, most of which are not implemented well.
NGO’s have done a tremendous work for this cause. ‘Prayas’, one of the biggest NGO’s in Delhi has separate 24 hour shelter homes for boys and girls. ‘Mother NGO for Homeless’ coordinates the response of government as well as citizens to the homeless. NGO ‘Akshaya’ works solely for the elderly who are deprived of home and also provide health solutions. NGO’s are working diligently to provide vocational training, houses and basic education to the homeless. Some NGO’s also provide advocacy to help the homeless enjoy the same rights as that of urban poor and access to the government policy benefits, integrating them into the larger society, reconstructing houses, schools, education centres, providing health security and a chance to survive on well-funded jobs that match their skill and can help them feel less excluded. News channels too have come forward for this cause giving out details of reliable NGO and urging people to donate. But all of this has not been enough. The struggle is still on for the homeless.
For the homeless, life is a living nightmare. They have to bear the brunt of discrimination, criminal profiling, abuse, acid attacks and harassment. Horror stories ranging from police atrocities andÂ ‘mafia raaj’ to regular fights for two square meals are common. Winter adds up to their woes. 288 deaths were reported between Jan and Feb this year; the major causes included TB, drug addiction, alcohol, hunger and winter. London and China recently adopted the measure of installing ‘anti homeless’ spikes, hard conical metal that will prevent the homeless to sleep on the pavements. The apathy of the government is same everywhere but the citizens can do their bit. It should not be one of those times when we blame the government and forget the matter after five days. We can at least help the NGO’s who are trying to improve the lives of the homeless, rather than being indifferent. Volunteering for this cause, donating a few life essentials and bridging the gap to counter discrimination can be our first step forward to take the homeless off the streets and help them enjoy basic human rights of food, shelter and clothing.