Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sleeping Rough

I read ‘Coolie’, authored by one of the early Indian English writer who made it big, Sri Mulk Raj Anand. It is the journey of an orphan boy, staged in the British Raj, who comes from a remote hill village to work as a servant, works at various places before moving to Mumbai to join in a cotton mill and finally dies of some disease.

Though it is a master-piece, I felt that it is a bit exaggerated and dramatized for the English (read the British) audience.

I just remember that I have not started this writing for a literary review, neither I am equipped to review book of such standard. I read an article today, which immediately reminded this book.

Though I did not like the book completely, I was completely moved by the life of Munno (the boy) in Bombay (now Mumbai) – sleeping on pavements, then in a medical shop, sharing a hut with another big family and so on. While it was just fiction, the article I read on THE HINDU (English newspaper) Sunday magazine, it shook me for quite some time.

The harsh reality is that there are some things that have not changed since British Raj, after 61 years of independence, though I should admit that the Governments and NGOs are trying to do their part (read article). Yes, India is shining, if we read that the to-be world’s expensive home is being built in the same Mumbai.

A point to note is that most of the people surveyed do not appear to be beggars, but laborers who cannot afford the rent of a hut.

Some excerpts from THE HINDU article –
(Full article: http://www.hindu.com/mag/2008/11/02/stories/2008110250050300.htm)

The dominant feature of homelessness is “sleeping rough”, being forced to sleep without the protection of walls and a roof, battling the excesses of the seasons, insecurity and loneliness. Homeless respondents in all cities agreed that the most trying and disagreeable season for homeless people were the monsoons, closely followed by the winters.

In Delhi, for over a hundred thousand homeless people, the Delhi government runs over 14 night shelters, with a maximum capacity of 2,937 people. In other words, night shelters provide a roof for not more than three per cent of all homeless people in the city. There are none for women, or migrant families. The other cities lack even these, although NGOs extend night shelters to a small number of homeless people mainly in Patna. Of the government shelters, the largest in the nation’s capital is the one near the Old Delhi Railway Station. It was the first night shelter opened by the government in 1964, and in winter and the rains, its four large halls are crowded well beyond its official capacity of 514 persons. The facilities are elementary. For a fee of Rs. 6 a night, bare mats are spread out on the floors in each of the shelters on which men sleep, body pressed against body. Ragged blankets are provided for the winter, and there are common toilets and bathing places, erratically cleaned but always in demand. Outside in the walled city, private contractors called thijawalahs rent out quilts and plastic sheets for Rs. 5 a night to homeless sleepers. Iron cots are lined up in the corridors outside shops, for a rent of Rs. 15 per night.

The respondents to our survey said what disturbed their sleep most were the police (17 per cent), mosquitoes (16 per cent), the noise (12 per cent), the weather and health problems (9 per cent each). In Delhi, police brutality figured highest at 32 per cent for disturbing homeless people at night.

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