By Drishti Agarwal:
Rampal began his journey from Katwa in Bengal. He migrated to Jammu initially and finally landed up in Delhi. He migrated 8 years ago in search of better work opportunities and living conditions. Since his move to the capital city, he has been living in the shelters run by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board. Presently, he is living in a shelter in Kashmere Gate.
A 15-year-old Rampal was full of hopes and aspirations. He wanted to earn money for his family by working hard. Like any other young kid, he had a group of friends in the village. He was the first one to move out in search of work as he was the eldest in the family. Rampal told me, “I only studied till class 5 and soon started earning. My brothers completed their studies and now have permanent jobs back in the village. They have families and are living happily.”
In 2002, Rampal was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Since he did not have any savings, his parents and his brothers had to take care of him. Despite him being very close to his family, the relations eventually began to sour. Unable to come to terms with his mother’s distress of providing for his medicines, Rampal left his home and came to Delhi. He was treated for TB but his body could not be like before. He used to make ends meet by carrying materials on his heads, which were to be loaded on trucks. This made matters even worse for his frail body. This his how the journey of an unemployed, uneducated and a homeless man began.
After spending some nights on the streets, Rampal was soon rescued by the shelter board and asked to stay at one of the shelters. During this time, he did not lose hope and continued working as a seasonal worker. He often found some work in hotels and marriages. Everything would have gone well for Rampal if he had not been cheated by many of his employers. “I was due Rs 28000 at one place, but the boss asked me to keep working. When I asked for the wages, he refused,” he explained. It was not the only time that he wasn’t paid his salary. There have been many instances when the employers have made him work and not paid him. He has often lost ₹2,000, ₹3,000 and even ₹5000.
To be able to find work and earn a living is just one of the many challenges. The homeless living in the shelter do not have any safe place to keep their savings. Having migrated without any identity cards, they are unable to open a bank account. They often get seasonal work at parties. In such cases, they work for 24 hours and receive a meagre amount. Anything between ₹400-450. The workers are forced to spend even this meagre amount as there is no guarantee that this money will remain safe. As Rampal informs, there are many in the shelter who believe in working and earning money, while there are some, who simply steal other people’s earnings at knife point. Assaults are quite frequent near the shelter. He remembers an incident in which he had asked a shopkeeper, a friend of his to keep ₹2,500. When he went back to ask for his money, he was refused and told that he had already collected the money.
After such tragic incidents, Rampal seems quite disillusioned. He doesn’t know what the future has in store for him. He admits that village life is better but people move to cities as wages are very low there. Unable to find work, the homeless living in the shelter have bleak hopes of having a better future and tend to start consuming drugs.
Ramesh, an experienced migrant who has lived in the city for long does not advise anyone to lose hope and blame their fate. He said, “There are many opportunities to work and earn. You cannot find such opportunities in the village. The shelter is a good initiative as it provides them with a place to rest, toilet facilities and even free medical facilities.” If one has to stay on the roads, he has to pay Rs 40 for beds and Rs 5-10 for using the public washroom. If someone falls sick, he is not treated well in government hospitals and is made to wait for a long time.
42-year-old Ramesh has not lost hope. He advises everyone to not feel disillusioned. He requires work urgently. He is also open to learning a new skill. Even though he has lost all hope of going back home and does not know whether his mother is alive or not. But even in such a grim situation, he is determined to earn a good amount of money before going home.
“Making shelters is not a solution but just the first step,” Harsh Mander, Director of Centre for Equity Studies, rightly pointed out. He further added that “The government sees homeless as people who are just looking for a roof for the night and it never goes beyond that. We need to know that they are homeless because they came to a city to earn a livelihood, could not afford housing and succumbed to the harsh reality. Some took to drugs and some started to commit crimes.” (Hindustan Times, August 20, 2016)
In an interview with Hindustan Times, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board chief VK Jain said that it is important for the homeless to be engaged in a vocation. “Once they learn a skill, they can earn and can lead a respectable life. It will give their life a meaning,” said Mr Jain. The board is planning to start 10 skill training centres within the existing 197 shelters. Here they will be taught plumbing, carpentry, electric work, along with other vocational subjects.
We still need to analyse the existing requirements of theses ‘skilled workers’ and the quality of training being provided. Ten centres for 197 shelters appears to be a small change. Providing skill is one thing, ensuring a livelihood is another.