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22 People Lose Homes Every Hour: Has Humanity Gone Missing?

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

In March 2020, about 600 migrant workers lost their humble accommodations in Bengaluru. They had been living on government land in a settlement in Kacharakanahalli for the past 20 years. They had gone to their villages in the Kalaburagi district for a festival before the Covid-19-induced lockdown was announced. When they returned after some ease in the lockdown, they found their houses razed.

In June, taking a suo motu cognizance on a plea filed by an advocate, the Karnataka High Court ordered the state government to identify those who had lost their houses and provide adequate compensation and rehabilitate them. As per a recent development, the state government has decided to give a compensation of Rs 14,100 to each affected family after the Court had asked the government to reconsider the earlier announced amount of Rs 6,100 for being “unreasonably low”. The court has further asked the state government to submit a report on the status of the investigation carried out in the incident.

Photo: TOI

The Karnataka High Court had stated that the destruction of the houses is a violation of the fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution and the affected families must get adequate compensation. Meanwhile, a few families have reconstructed their houses on the same site. They lost some of their valuable documents when their houses were burnt.

Amid the pandemic and multiple vagaries these migrant workers have been facing, this case of fire and destruction of homes depicts a culture of dispossession in cities these people have been facing in the absence of adequate state policy of housing for migrant workers which is safe and affordable. Triggered by one factor, the situation of migrants gets flared up in multiple dimensions ranging from housing to livelihoods to security, privacy, and access to city resources.

The pandemic has further shown the vulnerability of migrant workers in Indian cities, among other issues the country has been grappling with now. The loss of homes in a fire in this case when they were away is just an instance.

The question looms large here is how they have lost their homes?

It has been alleged that taking the advantage of the situation of empty homes when migrants were away, some miscreants set them on fire for the benefit of the expansion of a function hall whose owner wanted the land vacated for parking and other purposes. This incident reflects the suspected case of arson as a means to vacate the land and destruction of dwellings of poor families.

There have been several reported cases of fire incidents in informal settlements in the country. In most of the cases, the reason often attributed is an accident. They are hardly investigated. The compensation doled out to families is often not adequate and in rare cases, they get any sort of rehabilitation.

According to a recent report by Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) Forced Evictions in India in 2019: An Unrelenting National Crisis, over 27,000 people lost their houses in 2018 and 2019 as a direct consequence of fire incidents in their settlements. The report highlights that not all cases are of accidents, but there are suspected cases of arson too as an insidious means to vacate the land. The report has highlighted a few cases of such incidents were families have lost their homes and didn’t receive adequate compensations and rehabilitation.

Representational image.

As per the report, in Bihar’s Begusarai district houses of about 100 ‘low-caste’ families were set on fire allegedly by local goons contracted by influential people. In Katihar district of Bihar, 25 Dalit families lost their houses when miscreants burnt their houses allegedly to grab their land. In Meerut, a fire incident during a drive to remove encroachment in the Bhusa Mandi area resulted in about 150 Muslim families losing their houses. In Amritsar, Punjab, about 100 families lost their houses due to fire. The affected families suspected a foul play to evict them. In Delhi, police officials set on firehouses of families in Lajpat Nagar to evict them from the place they had been living. Similarly, in Mumbai police set on fire the belongings of families living near the Amar Mahal Flyover to vacate the place.

During such fire incidents, families not just lose their houses they built incrementally by their hard-earned money, but also their further means of identity and livelihood as a result of the burning of their valuable documents and identity papers.

This has been the issue in almost all cases of eviction drive, which the HLRN’s report talks about in detail, as the families hardly get adequate notice and time to remove their belongings. The report says in most of the cases the reason is often attributed to accidents owing to cylinder blast, stove blast, and short circuit, and in most cases, it remains unascertained. The report also brings to the fore the suspected case of arson in such cases to evict people and grab their land.

It calls for proper investigation in such cases to examine if there are ulterior motives behind and ensure social justice to the affected families. Moreover, the report has highlighted cases of evictions during 2017-2019 in which over half a million people lost their houses, resulting in the 22 people losing their homes every hour. Even during the pandemic, the report finds out, about 20,000 people had been forcibly evicted for various reasons when they are supposed to stay at home as per international and national directives and guidelines.

The report has highlighted a glaring figure of 15 million people facing the prospect of eviction.

Recently, the Supreme Court of India in the case of MC Mehta v Union of India (W.P. Civil No. 13029/1985) ordered to remove 48,000 jhuggies (shanties) along railway tracks in Delhi within three months. The apex court has also stayed orders by any court to prevent the removal drive, besides no any political or otherwise interference. After a civil society outcry over the order which would evict and render people homeless without adequate rehabilitation, the government has announced that a solution would be identified within four weeks and no eviction will be carried out till then.

A ruling of such a nature from the SC at a time when everyone is reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is ironic. The recent order of the SC is also seen as a marked departure from its judgement in the case of Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1985, and rulings of several high courts for example the High Court of Delhi in Ajay Maken v Union of India¸2015, and the above mentioned Karnataka High Court order where directions were issued for the prevention of arbitrary evictions, and for the protection of the fundamental right livelihood and housing read under Article 21 of the Constitution.

In the current situation unleashed by the pandemic, there is an urgent need of prohibition on any sort of arbitrary evictions of low-income families. Rather adequate policy measures in tune with international human rights law and the United Nations guidelines shall be taken to provide housing to the homeless, and protect the housing right of all sections of people. Enactment of laws on the human rights to adequate housing and land, homestead right, and affordable rental housing policy for the protection of human rights including the right to shelter is the need of the hour.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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