Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In Search of a Home in a World Class City

A group of homeless men spend their night outside a mosque in old Delhi in the bitter foggy cold of January 2010.

Delhi is home to over 14 million (1.4 crore) people. To that extent the city is representative of India which too holds more people than it can afford to. With over 100 crore (a billion) people, India stands at the second spot in the numbers game, right after China.

India's capital city too cannot provide for all its residents in a manner similar to the country. Large swathes of population in the country do not have access to job opportunities, education, food, health services, shelter and housing.

One of the largest megalopolis's in the world, Delhi is these days undergoing a massive facelift and transformation, just in time for the Commonwealth Games. The Delhi Government wants to make the city, in its own words, "a world class city."

A man emerges out of a makeshift shanty of straw and coir besides the bank of the River Yamuna near central Delhi on a February morning. This hut will move to higher reaches, as will thousands of people, when the river rises during the monsson season. 

The Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan, which has been working on the city's homeless for the last many years, estimates that the city harbours about 100,000 (one lakh) homeless people and these numbers are only likely to go up.

The Indo-Global Social Service Society too has made working for the homeless in Delhi one of its top priority areas. It is now trying to ensure that in the 2011 Census, the homeless and the urban poor are also counted and not left unenumerated as has been done in the earlier census surveys.

A young man living of the streets stares into blankness in Nizamuddin, south-central Delhi. By the look in his eyes, he seems to be addicted.

Delhi will see more people on the streets for the simple reason that under the beautification drive, slum clusters are being removed and relocated to the periphery of the city. Many of these people who were earlier working in the city will now find it too difficult and expensive to come back to the city to work. They simply start living on the street.

In many case, the shanties are demolished but not relocated and these affected inhabitants will invariably be forced to live on the roads-side.

As part of the drive to improve the city, some of the shelters for the homeless also have been broken down. In one such case, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi demolished a shelter in December 2009 after which two people who lived there died of extreme cold.

The inmates, most of who are coolies, beggars, part-time labour, wind up for the night at a shelter for the homeless, made of thick cloth tents, in old Delhi. 

A lot of these shelters are tents made of thick cloth but these do protect the homeless from nature's fury - heat, rain and cold.

The beautification of the city for the Commonwealth Games has spawned much needless construction. Pavements and sidewalks that were new have been broken down and new ones are being built.

It is the same story with roads, the central dividers, fences and railings across the city. The debris are usually thrown into green areas of the city or are buried under the pavements and sidewalks whose height has been increased considerably to accommodate such construction rubble.

A dog makes itself comfortable on a vacant bed as a man lies buried deep inside quilts on a hand cart in Chandni Chowk in old Delhi. 

This mammoth construction makes one feel if these huge amounts of money could not have been better spent by the government on building schools, hospitals, shelters for the homeless or even housing for the economically weaker sections of the society.

Though Delhi has continued to attract its share of migrants from across the country, even neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, the construction related to the Commonwealth Games has spawned more migration of the workers.

A motely group of ragpickers prepare a meal under a flyover near the Inter State Bus Terminus, north Delhi.

Experts feel that the new wave of workers, most of who are the rural poor from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, will not go back once the construction work comes to an end. They will in turn add to the increasing numbers of the homeless in the city.

It is not only homelessness that is a problem, but all such people finally end up as mental wrecks. Many become alcoholic or start taking drugs. Others resort to criminal activities or begging. Children and women are worse off as many have no option but to turn to prostitution for a living.

A family burns rubbish to keep itself warm near the Jama Masjid in January 2010, old Delhi.

Heightened activism by concerned individuals and NGOs has resulted in the courts taking an active interest in issues surrounding the homeless people. In the last few months itself, the courts have asked the government to explain why adequate shelters have not been provided to those without a roof over their heads. At the same time, the movement to fight for the dignity and rights of the homeless has spread to many other cities in India.

A labourer takes an afternoon nap in a drain pipe on the Yamuna river bank near the Commonwealth Games village.

1 comment:

Neel said...

quite informative-as expected from a journalist :) waiting to hear more frm upcoming posts