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By UNICEF Office, Tamil Nadu
S. Janani, 14, is a student of Standard 9. Her family is among the hundreds of homeless families living in the city of Chennai. She lives in Egmore. Her father works as a loader, and her mother as a sweeper. They are dependent on their day-to-day earnings. Due to the lockdown, they are not able to work and are finding it difficult to meet even their daily needs.
Janani knows that the Coronavirus is life-threatening. “If one person is infected, it will spread to the other members of the family. This is a communicable disease,” she says.
“Due to the lockdown, people like us who do not have a house cannot sleep even on the roadside. Police chase us away, saying that if people stay together, the virus will spread. Ordinary citizens also chase us off,” she reports.
“Government is telling people to stay indoors to protect themselves from the disease. It is possible for people who have houses to do that, but for people who are homeless, how is it possible to maintain social distancing?” asks Janani.
“My mother usually cooks by the side of the road,” she says. “Now even that is not possible. We wait for people to give us food. We can eat only when the government distributes food, or people donate. Many families in our area don’t have ration cards, so we are not able to get the benefits announced by the government.”
Having food to eat is not the only concern Janani has. She and her community are forced to deal with the stigma that COVID-19 has instilled in people. “People have started discriminating against us because we are not able to maintain personal hygiene and social distancing. I feel so low when people discriminate against us,” she says.
“We used to stay near the railway station and make use of the water from the station for our daily needs—like cooking, bathing and washing clothes. Now we have to pay ₹5 for a bucket of water from the pay-and-use toilets near the place where we stay. We cannot afford that amount in these times. So, how can we wash our hands frequently and protect us from the disease?” she asks.
“There is no security for us due to the lockdown. Before lockdown we were homeless, but now we are hopeless,” says Janani.
The one thing Janani is happy about is that the exams for Standard 9 have been cancelled, so she needn’t worry about school. As we exit the lockdown, she has a message for the government: “I request the government to provide a place for us to stay, at least two meals a day and also soap, masks, sanitizer, sanitary napkins and hand wash liquid. I also want medical check-ups to be conducted for homeless people and extra measures to protect homeless people from the Coronavirus.”