The Homeless in Delhi Aren’t Just Deprived of Shelter, But Their Identity Too

Earlier, cities were considered as an option to escape rural poverty but for the last few years these spaces are increasingly turning hostile to the casual migrants who come to the cities in search of employment.  On the eve of World Homeless Day, an attempt was made to understand this complex system of urban poverty by focusing on the homeless people in the national capital.

Defining Homelessness

Before we begin the discussion on the conditions of homeless people in New Delhi, it is important to understand who these homeless people are and what is their role in the city. The technical definition describes them as those who do not have a roof over their head and live in open areas like pavements.

I would take this definition one step further. Homeless people are the ones who are engaged in odd jobs like rickshaw-pulling, waste-picking, casual labour, street vending, among many other such jobs. They have no social and financial security and mostly live on the streets. The homeless are the city makers who contribute to the economy of the city just as the other classes yet are not identified. 

Ecological Footprint

The homeless people are more ecologically more sustainable than others. They do not use the vehicles which is the major source of pollution. Instead, they use the mode of the cycle or the service of rickshaws. Many are waste-pickers helping to keep the cities clean. Despite their contributions, they are not regarded as an important part of the city and live in one of the worst conditions, often subjected to several vulnerabilities.

Increase In Numbers

Cities are viewed as engines of growth but this growth is unequal and marginalises the section of the people, forcing them to live on the edge. Over the years, the number of homeless people in the city has increased. The official Census figures claim that there has been an increase of about 36.78% in the urban homeless population throughout the country. In New Delhi, the number of homeless has increased from 0.21% of the total population in 2001 to 0.28% in 2011. The increase in number is very much visible. With the rapid pace of urbanisation, the number of homeless people is also increasing.

The case of homeless people in Delhi clearly shows how the services of urban poor people are used, but no recognition is given to them for that.  The death of homeless people in the city has just become a tool to politically mobilise the people, while the governance mechanisms for the homeless has remained inadequate and inefficient for decades now. The unregulated run of privatisation is ensuring that homeless people are out of the home.  Homeless women are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse, yet their cases are rarely reported. The homeless are pushed to the edge after their services have been consumed.

This World Homeless Day, there is a need to break the myth that homeless people do not work because this makes them invisible in the city.  However, blaming the government entirely will be wrong as even the urban people are responsible for the abysmal condition of the homeless. Hence every individual in the city has to come forward and help the homeless or poor fight for their city rights.

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