This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by vikas kumar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Homeless In Delhi Aren’t Just Deprived Of Shelter, But Their Identity Too

More from vikas kumar

Earlier, cities were considered as an option to escape rural poverty but for the last few years these spaces are increasingly turning hostile to the casual migrants who come to the cities in search of employment. This hostility is in the form of unemployment, homelessness, and indifference form the people and government. On the eve of World Homeless Day, an attempt was made to understand this complex system of urban poverty by focusing on the homeless people in the national capital.

Defining Homelessness

Before we begin the discussion on the conditions of homeless people in New Delhi, it is important to understand who are these homeless people and what is their role in the city. The technical definition describes them as those who do not have a roof over their head and live in open areas like pavements.

I would take this definition one step further. Homeless people are the ones who are engaged in odd jobs like rickshaw-pulling, waste-picking, casual labour, street vending, among many other such jobs. They have no social and financial security and mostly live on the streets. The homeless are the city makers who contribute to the economy of the city just as the other classes do.

Ecological Footprint

The homeless people are more ecologically more sustainable than others. They do not use the vehicles which is the major source of pollution. Instead, they use the mode of the cycle or the service of rickshaws. Many are waste-pickers helping to keep the cities clean. Despite their contributions, they are not regarded as an important part of the city and live in one of the worst conditions, often subjected to several vulnerabilities.

Increase In Numbers

Cities are viewed as engines of growth but this growth is unequal and marginalises the section of the people, forcing them to live on the edge. Over the years, the number of homeless people in the city has increased. The official Census figures claim that there has been an increase of about 36.78% in the urban homeless population throughout the country. In New Delhi, the number of homeless has increased from 0.21% of the total population in 2001 to 0.28% in 2011. This is government-generated data, and many civil society organisations claim that it is a very low estimation of the actual figure. But still, if we accept this figure, the increase in number is very much visible. With the rapid pace of urbanisation, the number of homeless people is also increasing.

Increasing Vulnerability and Politics over Deaths

The figure of homeless deaths in the capital does not seem to be changing much from the previous year. According to a report, about 181 homeless people died in 2016. As many as 44 homeless people died in January this year, and the chilling winter is yet to arrive in the city. The deaths of homeless people in the city are used by politicians to reap political benefits. However, on the ground no considerable efforts have been made improve their condition.

Inadequacy And Harsh Behavior Of The City

The number of homeless population in Delhi is believed to be around 1,25,000, but according to the government’s record, the occupancy rate is just 8,500 – at its peak. The reason behind the low occupancy rate is the abysmal condition of homeless night shelters. Apart from this, there are around 9,240 homeless women, who are more vulnerable than the others, but there are only twenty shelters with a capacity of 2024 catering to the needs of the homeless population in the city. And even in the night shelters, according to the HLRN report, the cases of harassment and sexual abuse are also widely prevalent. The figures clearly show the inadequacy of the system and the abusive behaviour of the city towards the poor homeless women in the capital of the country.

Deprivation Of Political Rights

The homeless people in the capital are not only deprived of a roof but also of an identity which is a crucial tool to establish a claim in the city. Since most of the homeless people are migrants and do not possess any legal proof, it is very difficult for them to obtain an identity proof in the capital. The Election Commission of India clearly made a provision for the homeless to get voter ID cards without any address proof but the number of homeless people having a voter ID card in the capital is very minuscule. An RTI filed by Centre for Holistic Development in Feb 2018 shows that only 4079 homeless people in the national capital possess a voter ID card. This means the majority of homeless people are deprived of their fundamental political right to chose their leaders. The right to cast a vote can be their significant bargaining tool with the political parties seeking their votes. It is tragic that two major elections-Delhi Assembly election and Lok Sabha election- are due in a few months and these people do have any say in who comes to power and takes note of their problems.

The Reality Of Government Polices

The Modi government takes pride in launching PMAY scheme which promised to give housing to all by 2022. But in PMAY there is not even a single component which addresses the homeless population. Term ‘housing for all’ in the scheme is just an illusion for the homeless people. The condition of other policies is not very different either. The smart city project of the national capital, which will develop the NDMC area as a smart city, does not even talk about the existing population of the homeless. The proposal has a vision to take the city to a global level benchmark and the whole proposal is full of words like ‘smart’, ‘technology’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘world class’. The proposal does talk about the safety of women and children, but there is no mentioning of homeless people in the proposal, hinting that it is only meant for the privileged class of the society.


When we look at the other side of this homelessness in the capital we get a very ironical image. On the one hand, in Delhi, lakhs of people are living without a roof. On the other hand, several properties are lying vacant in the city.   A Times of India report claims that Gurgaon has around 50,000 unsold inventory. Another report of Dainik Jagran claims that about 5.26 lakh houses are lying empty in the national capital. The reason behind emptying of so many housing dwelling is the unaffordability.  One of the major reasons behind these huge stock of unsold inventory is unaffordable real estate prices or rentals. Government’s privatisation and investment-led policy just for the sake of economic growth is leaving the poor people unable to afford a house in the city.

The case of homeless people in Delhi clearly shows how the services of urban poor people are used, but no recognition is given to them for that.  The death of homeless people in the city has just become a tool to politically mobilise the people, while the governance mechanisms for the homeless has remained inadequate and inefficient for decades now. The unregulated run of privatisation is ensuring that homeless people are out of the home.  Homeless women are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse, yet their cases are rarely reported. The homeless are pushed to the edge after their services have been consumed.

This World Homeless Day, there is a need to break the myth that homeless people do not work because this makes them invisible in the city.  However, blaming the government entirely will be wrong as even the urban people are responsible for the abysmal condition of the homeless. Hence every individual in the city has to come forward and help the homeless or poor fight for their city rights.

The writer is part of urban poverty team of Indo Global Social Service Society and also the member of Shehari Adhikar Manch: Begharo Ke Sath(SAM: BKS)Delhi.


You must be to comment.

More from vikas kumar

Similar Posts

By vjay paul

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below