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“India Is The Second Most Unequal Country In The World”

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Despite decades of development, positioning the country as one of the world’s largest economies, homelessness is still a crisis in India, where wealth inequality is present in staggering proportions. In fact, India is the second most unequal country in the world. Its high rate of homelessness stands as a testament to this grim reality.

Homelessness In India

The Census of India 2011 defines ‘houseless household’ as, “households who do not live in buildings or census houses but live in the open on roadside, pavements, under flyovers and staircases, or in the open in places of worship, mandaps, railway platforms, etc.” Approximately four million people in India are homeless. Furthermore, the 2011 census pegged the number of people residing in urban slums at 65 million. Approximately one in six Indians who reside in cities live in unsanitary slums.

For India’s homeless, health vulnerabilities are far-reaching: the risk of violence, particularly sexual assault in the case of homeless women, often fatal exposure to the elements, and mental illness. To address the issue, the Supreme Court in 2012 directed that one homeless shelter for every 100,000 people should be built in every Indian city.

Homelessness and wealth inequality still loom large in India. Representational image.

2013’s Shelters for the Urban Homeless initiative has reached 790 cities to provide basic amenities, legal aid, and medical attention to the homeless. However, implementation issues and failure of authorities to spend funds have hampered its effect – to the extent that, in November 2017, it was reported that ninety percent of homeless people in India do not have access to sheltered accommodation.

The Indian government’s Housing For All scheme aims to make housing affordable for all Indians by 2022, with the construction of twenty million accommodations, primarily through tax incentives aimed at persuading the private sector to construct affordable housing. However, this has attracted criticism from UN special rapporteur Leilani Farha, who argues for a human rights approach.

She notes that most homeless are from historically marginalized groups –lower castes, Muslims, and women – and says the government must address this social discrimination as well as provide guaranteed shelter for all who need it.

By 2025, 42 percent of Indians will live in urban areas and eighteen million will need low-income housing. Without their needs being addressed, the slum population and the number of those sleeping rough will increase.

In contrast to India, Japan boasts the lowest official numbers in the world. Official statistics record 7,500 homeless living in Japan, a country of over 126 million people. Japanese government initiatives including temporary housing provisions and employment advice are praised for reducing the incidence of homelessness.

Suggestions To Combat Homelessness

Based on the same temporary housing provision premise, the Shahri Adhikar Manch: Begharon Ke Saath (SAM: BKS) — a collective of over 25 civil society organizations, social movements, and homeless people’s groups working to promote the realization of the human rights of Delhi’s homeless — presented a memorandum to Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement
Board (DUSIB) on behalf of Delhi’s homeless residents, including the following demands which can effectively help alleviate homelessness:

Enable homeless shelters to function as facilitation centers to provide identity and entitlement documents for the homeless, including ration cards, election/voter identity cards, and Aadhar cards;

Equip homeless shelters to serve as resource centers for the homeless, and provide linkages with educational, livelihood, and health services, including hospitals, schools, and ‘anganwadis’/ICDS centers.

Homeless people at a night shelter at ISBT in New Delhi. Source: Hindustan Times

Establish a consultative committee, as suggested in the DUSIB Act, to monitor conditions of all shelters; Conduct an immediate survey of the homeless population, with the active participation of homeless communities and civil society groups working with the homeless, to be able to better plan policy response and interventions; Provide sufficient shelters, based on the actual homeless population and as per Supreme Court orders and the requirements of the National Urban Livelihoods Mission –
Scheme of Shelters for Urban Homeless (NULM–SUH).

The government should build more shelters in areas where there is a need. Special shelters should be built for persons with mental illness, disabilities, chemical dependencies, and chronic illnesses. Separate shelters are also required for working men, single women, families, and survivors of violence, as per NULM–SUH norms.

Conduct regular shelter audits, as recommended in NULM–SUH, with the active participation of homeless residents, independent institutions, and civil society; Ensure the safety and security of women and children by undertaking adequate measures, including the installation of CCTV cameras, building secure gates and boundary walls around shelters, ensuring the presence of women police officials at shelters, and providing secure toilets and bathrooms for women and children.

Lockers should also be provided in all shelters; Ensure provisioning of food as per the NULM–SUH guidelines. Shelters for the highly vulnerable should provide free cooked food for their residents, while other shelters should aim 3 to provide food once a day at highly subsidized rates, and also provide space for cooking and storing food and cooking implements.

Moving Beyond Shelters

Carry out training to build the capacity of managers and shelter management agencies, so that they are equipped to deal with the challenges faced by the homeless community. Also, ensure that the working rights of caretakers and managers are not violated in any form. Pay at least minimum wages and provide a weekly day off to all shelter caretakers/managers.

Finally, move beyond shelters – The government should address structural causes of homelessness and work to provide durable solutions towards ensuring adequate, permanent housing for the homeless. This includes building linkages to housing schemes, developing social rental housing, and providing rehabilitation, life-skill, and livelihood training for the homeless. Shelters are only the first step towards rehabilitation of the homeless on a continuum of housing rights.

Homelessness is a reflection of a country dogged by inequality and addressing their needs, their suffering, and their vulnerabilities will be a vital component of the country’s social development – one which, for a fair society, will need to keep up with economic growth.

This piece was originally published here.

References:
Hamad, R. (2017). ‘Us and them”: What homelessness looks like around the world. Retrieved
from https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/culture/article/2017/07/04/us-and-them-what-
homelessness-looks-around-world
Housing and Land Rights Network: Homelessness in India. Retrieved from
https://www.hlrn.org.in/homelessness
Press Release: Homeless Residents of Delhi Celebrate World Homeless Day; Submit
Memorandum to the Government with their Demands. (2017). Shahri Adhikar Manch:
Begharon Ke Saath (Urban Rights Forum with the Homeless). Retrieved from
https://www.hlrn.org.in/documents/Press_Release_SAM_BKS_World_Homeless_Day.pdf
Watts, K. (2019). Homelessness: An Indian Crisis. Retrieved from

Homelessness: An Indian crisis

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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.

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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.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

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