According to conservative estimates, Delhi’s homeless population is of around one lakh or to some extent. More people in the city lack homes today.
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“I never go to school. Mostly I help my mother in household work and rest of the time I play with my sisters. But I had a dream to go to school.” – Sanjana, an 11years old girl was sharing her thought while playing with a puppy on the railway track. Her wistful eyes are quite unsure if her dream will come true in future or not.
Delhi once had a quieter routine and a simple lifestyle compared to the dazzle of Mumbai. But it has now become a landmass of showy wealth hovering in the air.
Constant migration has put huge strain on the capital’s limited accommodation. The people, who take a large responsibility to make the city function in the day, regrettably spend their nights here without even a proper shelter. Under the flyovers, near railway stations, road dividers, pavements – they are everywhere. We pass them by uncaringly.
Adarsh Kumar, 22, a street vendor, plays with his three children in front of his shanty beside railway tracks near Okhla. “There is no New Year eve or Christmas celebration in our life. They are just like any other days. Our day begins with a struggle to arrange at least two meals. Winters makes it even more difficult. It is very tough to spend shivering nights under the open sky”, said Kumar. He came to Delhi 20 years ago from an interior village of Uttar Pradesh for a better livelihood. But nowadays to avoid competitive market in Delhi, every early morning he has to travel almost 50kms away for his livelihood.
Winter nights are notorious in Delhi for its dipping mercury.
Children huddle around a coal fire in a make-shift home under the Modi Mill flyover near Okhla station. Winters are particularly the harshest of months for the homeless in the capital. More than a lakh are out on the streets of Delhi alone. They are homeless, hungry and cold. And they are not just winter statistics.
Government agencies claim to have organized more than 220 temporary and permanent shelters when there are thousands out on the streets. Overcrowding, lack of basic amenities, security and overall hygiene also drive many homeless citizens away from these places. Facilities for women and children are further ignored while constructing these night shelters.
Sonika, 35, with her little son at a night shelter near Kalkaji Mandir area in Delhi. According to her a man from Delhi brought her here after marriage but left her after two years. Nowadays she only able to manage two times meal a day for them by visiting the local Temples and Gurudwaras.
Raju, 15, from Jaipur, Rajasthan, sells balloons on the roadside in Delhi to support his family. He came to Delhi with his family five years ago in search of a better livelihood. He earns around Rs.80-100 a day by selling balloons.
Arti, 45, a rag picker with her daughter-in-law Kanika (20) in their makeshift-home put up beside railway tracks near Okhla station in Delhi. She migrated with her family from Akbarpur, UP to Delhi around 25 years ago. Arti, like many others who migrated here for a better living, make the city function in the day but spend their nights without a proper shelter.
Guddi, 40, lives with her three daughters and husband in Delhi. Her husband earns their livelihood working as a daily labour in the city. According to her they came to Delhi from Kanpur about 5 years ago in search of better livelihood but ended at a shanty nearby railway tracks.
Arti, 45, a rag picker with her four sons at her residence just beside the rail way track.
Delhi may be one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, but nearly half its people live in slums and unauthorized colonies without any civic amenities.
Migration isn’t, however, the only ‘problem’. Internal displacement in the city due to slum demolitions, land grabs and forced evictions, is Delhi’s reality.
Thousands of families become homeless in the aim to make Delhi slum free.
Slum removal at a huge rate to fulfill the demand of ever-rising real-estate properties has added more numbers to the homeless population in the last few years.
Raju Rai, 43, recalled that he used to work in bicycle shop at a slum area in Delhi. But he misplaced from his shelter while the slum demolished in a target to make Delhi slum free. Later he lost his normal walking ability in an accident. Now he resides in a night shelter near Nizamuddin area in Delhi. But it is difficult to manage space there as most of the time it remains full by a huge numbers of homeless at night.
Life in the metro goes on unaware of the condition the homeless face in the capital. A man catches up on his sleep on a pavement near Nizamuddin, in south Delhi, as life goes on in the city.
Land filling of waste which has been the main waste disposal option for centuries still remains the dominant waste disposal method in India’s capital. The smell in those areas is so strong that feels it can be taste while it gets into throat, it is awful.
About thousands of migrated families live in the landfill areas to make their both ends meet a day. Without the landfill, they would starve.
Lutfur, 42, came to Delhi around 20 years ago from West Bengal for a better livelihood but end as a rag picker at a landfill area near Bhalswa in Delhi. He now lives with his wife, two daughters and five sons in a shanty beside the landfill.
Finding no other options, children use the unhygienic and grubby field just beside the landfill area as playground.
Living places in these areas are more like shanties only made of ragged cloths, plastics just beside the garbage dumps.
Abdul Razzaq, 45, with his children at their shanty near a landfill area. He came to Delhi 22 years ago in search of a job, but ended as a daily wage labour at landfill. His monthly income is too small to arrange two times meal a day. Even a dream of a simple shelter for living is a luxury to them.
Small area fenced by some torn cloths and plastics in an open place is used as a bathroom. People use the same water for bathing and drinking.
A girl passes through a landfill area in Bhalswa in Delhi.
Most of the children from poverty-ridden families and homeless people in Delhi make their living by searching and selling recyclables in the unhygienic landfill areas. According to them garbage is their livelihood and it is more important than their health issue.
Awful and unhygienic circumstances here bury the innocence of childhood.
“It is very hard to sleep in winter nights as we don’t have enough warm clothes. I and my sisters hold each other tight at night when we feel too cold,” said Sanjana who lives with her parent and sisters beside railway tracks near Okhla in Delhi.
Ruksana, 35, lives with her husband Mohd Ayub, 40 and their daughter near Nizamuddin. Mohd Ayub came to Delhi from Bihar a few years ago and started working as a rickshaw puller, but after a severe accident he now earns his livelihood by working as a daily-wage labour.
Sakina Bibi, 40, who is from Badarpur, lives in her shanty near Nizamuddin with her husband and one son. According to Sakina, her husband earns too little as a rickshaw puller to arrange even two meals a day, living in a proper house is beyond imagination.
Eighty year-old Bilal came from Pakistan 25 years ago in India. He is now regular in one of the rain baseras (night shelters) near Nizamuddin. His eldest son, he says, is professor in a college in Lahore. He claims that he has been trying to go back to Pakistan since years, but has been declined by the Pakistan Embassy for the lack of proper documents.
Many a homeless in the capital suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. According to a shelter caretaker in Yamuna Pusta near Kashmiri Gate, people fall for such addictions to avoid feeling the extreme weather conditions they are forced to live in.
Zahir Hussain (left) 34 and Sanjay Singhania (right) 38, spend most of the times of a day by taking drug near Nizamuddin area in Delhi. As per them they migrated from Meerut and Guwahati to Delhi respectively for better living. Futile efforts for several years have compelled them slowly to drug addiction. “We will try to quit our addiction if somebody promises to employ us even now” – admitted by Zahir while injecting drug to Sanjay’s hand.
A homeless man suffering from TB lies in a critical condition near Yamuna Pusta area waiting for an ambulance. Every year, especially in winters, the capital sees a rise in number of deaths in homeless. Over 500 homeless died on the streets in the past two months.
According to the Centre for Holistic Development, which assumes that 80% of unidentified dead bodies are homeless, 279 people died last month, the highest toll in a December since 2011. November 2014 witnessed 225 deaths. June and July, in fact, were worse, recording 485 and 364 deaths.
By midnight, most of the houses are locked up, windows tightly shut. Outside, the lanes look empty. Hidden in narrow lanes, fighting with the natural calamities in every season, the city’s homeless try to sleep. Indeed, Delhi is brutally keeping apart those that have wealth and those that help to produce it.
Silent pains of the homeless people in the India’s capital are buried alive in it’s midnight calmness every day.
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