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In poll season, who cares for Delhi's homeless?

By Sandeep Datta, New Delhi, Dec 3 : They could well be dubbed the capital's forgotten people - seen everywhere and yet not seen. They are one category that even politicians don't approach because they don't have a vote. As assembly elections are held here Wednesday and the nights become chillier, the homeless here - some estimate at 150,000 - hold little hope for their future.


"We sleep on pavements or under flyovers, under trees or sometimes in open parks the entire year. We search for meals outside temples or gurudwaras. We don't have anyone to care for us," Balak Ram, 40, from Bihar, who has made Kudesia Ghat near the Buddhist monastery in old Delhi his home, told IANS.

"We carry our rags or blankets with us to prevent them from getting stolen. We sleep wherever and whenever we can...," he added.

Some of them have little hope from government or political leaders.

"Who cares for us...," lamented another homeless, who arrived in Delhi about two decades back. "We pass our each day the same way. It doesn't matter...," he added.

Approximately 12 million voters are eligible to decide the political fate of 810 candidates in the elections to the 70-member Delhi Assembly to be held Wednesday. The homeless feel politicians don't care for them, since they are neither united nor have their voter-I cards to be of any use to political leaders as they count their support.

Mohammad Sharif told IANS near Nigambodh Ghat, the main cremation ground that he calls his home as he is an occasional beneficiary of mourners' generosity and also because of the heat the area produces from the innumerable burning pyres, that politicians have done precious little for them.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," he shrugged.

A 2012 survey commissioned by the Delhi government and conducted by Mission Convergence in collaboration with NGOs, put the population of the homeless at 55,955. However, NGOs estimate it to be at around 150,000..

"There are 10,000 homeless in Yamuna Pushta, Shamshan Ghat and Kudesia Ghat alone," said Satyabeer, manager of one of about 35 NGOs for the homeless in Delhi.

According to Delhi's Human Development Report 2013, migration to Delhi is falling and the average migrant is better-off and better educated than before.

Grappling with the problem of leading a basic existence, Delhi's homeless hope for government's intervention.

"We need government to set up small business units to accommodate us. We want permission to run small shops as vendors on roadside or wasteland. With this almost 90 percent of the homeless here can earn a livelihood," said another homeless near Nigambodh Ghat.

Most of these people seek government support in learning the skills for a livelihood.

Tat Baba, a homeless in Kudesia Ghat, said: "If we approach any official to be allowed to work, he would ask us to first produce voter-I-card, ration card or other documents. If we have already left our home and living hundreds of miles away, how can we be expected to be carrying such important papers with us?

Some of these homeless have learnt to eke out a living.

"We work at weddings as waiters or wash utensils. Other times we work as labourers or help as pushers to Thelagaris or for truck loading, unloading of goods or selling junk in Delhi. At times we are also taken to other states to work in fields," said Dharamveer, a homeless who spoke to IANS at a night shelter in Yamuna Pushta.

(Sandeep Datta can be contacted at sandeep.d@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 03-12-2013)

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