Homeless in the capital city

The past weeks has seen a city angry and outraged at the brutal and reprehensible assault on a young woman. One wonders what made this rape awaken our frozen consciences and come out of our convenient and self induced torpor. Rapes are not new. In fact there is a rape in our country every 22 minutes, that is 65 rapes a day! Not a figure to be proud of. Many of these are as reprehensible as the one that happened last month. What could be worst that the rape of a 2 year old and yet we kept silent. Perhaps it was because the victims were not 'one of us' and we felt immune from such aberrations. The rape of the young woman that shook us all was one we could identify with. It could have been our daughter or our sister as they too watch movies with their friends and may take a bus back home. This incident was too close for comfort and thus we shouted and protested and wanted to be heard. We clamoured for news laws, for severe punishment, for safer roads and so on. I can only hope that something positive comes out of our new collective persona.

Yet there are many things that should shake our conscience as human beings. One of them is the state of the homeless in the freezing winter. There are over 300 000 homeless in Delhi, including women and children. They are not hidden. We see them huddled under flyovers as we drive past. We see them sleeping on pavements as we return from a party or a late night movie. Every year the media run programmes on their plight. And yet we remain mute or at best to ease our consciences by donating a poor quality blanket. The same state that let down the one we call our braveheart, has only been able to make a paltry 154 shelters that can accommodate 7500 or a mere 2.5% of our homeless. In spite of court intervention nothing much seems to happen on the ground. Some homeless people have no option but sleep in public toilets to escape the biting cold.

While we layer ourselves with thermals and woollies, sit next to heaters and sip a hot mug of coffee, these people just pray that live through the night, and through every winter nights. No one cares for them. For politicians they are not vote banks and for the rest of the city they simply do not exist. They are brutalised by the police and often their paltry belongings confiscated. The women are abused and the children will never see a school. They are the most vulnerable and abandoned by one and all.

They too belong to the city we live in. Will the collective conscience that has been awakened by a brutal rape, raise its voice for these defenseless citizens of India.