Homeless people in India, as defined by official sources, refers to those who do not live in houses that are a part of census data collection (permanent houses), but rather stay on pavements, railway stations, roadsides, staircases, places of worship or in open spaces. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in India, as the number of homeless people has increased to 1.77 million according to the estimates. Urban centers including Delhi and Mumbai, host the largest number of homeless people, a significant number of them being children. Increasing rates of urbanization, disability, unemployment and the rising cost of housing can be attributed to the problem of growing homelessness in India.
India has experienced high rates of urbanization in the past few decades. Lopsided economic development and displacement due to the construction of dams and roads have forced people to move to urban centers to seek employment. However, most cities people migrate to are not infrastructurally developed enough to accommodate them. The disparity between supply and demand of housing tends to drive prices up and deny housing to many citizens altogether. Unemployment due to urbanization further impacts the ability of individuals to access the market for housing.
The desertion of individuals considered to be “unproductive” by their families also contributes to homelessness. People who are old, mentally or physically disabled are often abandoned by their families because of their inability to contribute economically to families. Homelessness also impacts women more severely than men. Unmarried pregnant women, mothers who have given birth to female babies and divorced women are often abandoned by those they are dependent upon for their sustenance.
Homelessness is not only a problem within itself but also gives rise to a plethora of social evils. Drug abuse is much more prevalent amongst those who do not have permanent residences. Women who are homeless are more vulnerable to rape and other forms of sexual assault. The impact of homelessness is worst felt by children who are more vulnerable to drug addiction, crime, and violence. There is a need for governments at all levels—center, state and local—to take comprehensive measures to improve the lives of citizens of this country impacted by homelessness.