Shelterless in biting cold
NEW DELHI - Swanky cars zipped past, fancy hotels were full of glitter, nattily dressed people flocked to pubs, lounges and restaurants in the capital this New Year’s Eve but the city’s homeless only hoped to survive yet another cold night, have at least one full meal a day and a shelter.
Outside the Nizamuddin Dargah in south Delhi, 21-year-old Yousuf sat in front of a bonfire he made out of trash — from cardboard boxes to twigs to tattered pieces of clothes — hoping that the fire goes the whole night.
“It gets freezing cold in the night. My friends who are beggars join me and we drink to warm us up. Every day is an ordeal for us,” Yousuf said.
“We talk, laugh, drink every night. We celebrate surviving another day and hope that something will change in the New Year,” the chirpy boy said.
There are about 150,000 homeless people — among them 10,000 women — living on the capital’s roads. Most of them are not accommodated in the night shelters.
Thirty-year-old rickshawpuller Vinod has no home. He came to Delhi six months back and has been shifting to various pavements every night. On New Year’s Eve, he hoped that nobody forces him to shift from Baba Kharak Singh Marg where he stayed out for the night.
“It is well lighted and glittering here. I am asked to shift on most nights. My children ask what is inside the huge buildings and I tell them that there are more lights — different colours and sizes,” Vinod said.
“I spent the last New Year’s day in my village in Uttar Pradesh where I had a house. It’s different this year. I hope that in 2011 I will be able to get a house,” he added.
A walk through Southeast Delhi’s posh New Friends Colony’s community centre, and groups of street children are seen smiling. They try to get food from the passersby, stack it in their torn bags and end their day on a full stomach.
Frail-looking Ayesha, 15, leads a group of five children who she claims are her siblings.
“On every New Year’s Eve we get more food and money.
“A lot of people are willing to buy us food. It is enough for all of us and our parents. We eat till our stomachs are full,” she said with a smile. In different parts of Delhi, there were several Good Samaritans distributing blankets, or groups of volunteers preferring to spend the night on the streets, rather than with their own families or the swish set. “About 20 volunteers of Goonj get together and try to bring warmth to the homeless people spending their nights under the open skies in the biting cold by distributing blankets and woollen clothes,” the NGO’s founder Anushu Gupta said.
Earlier, pulling up the authorities, the Supreme Court in December said thatit was the responsibility of the central and state governments to ensure that no deaths occurred due to lack of night shelters and asked that two shelters pulled down in this biting winter be restored within three days.
The apex court bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Deepak Verma said it was “insensitive and callous” on the part of the authorities to demolish night shelters meant for the homeless urban poor when the severity of the winter is increasing.