Homeless in Delhi's Winter #GivingTuesday #India

In the biting cold of the city is is funeral pyres that have come to the rescue of the homeless in the city. A heart wrenching news item aired today showed how many homeless persons huddled around the funeral pyres burning at different cremation sites. I wonder at the level of desperation that makes you seek warmth in the realm of the dead.

In another corner of the same city others are busy piling on layer after layer and complaining about the weather while sipping hot coffee or downing a shot of spirit. It should be said here that the hot tea and wood once given by the State Government to night shelters has been stopped. Perplexing as is it not the same Government who had promised to provide shelter to all homeless persons when it first came into power? Barely two years ago they had come up almost overnight with makeshift shelters across the city and had even talked of converting buses into night shelters. I had been quick to express my support urging one and all to do so. I was naive. I had forgotten that power corrupts in more ways than one. It demands you to give up the ability to see with your heart.

It took exactly two years to forget all promises. Even the cup of tea was taken away.

Some statistics now. In the 69th year of our Independence 8 people die of cold every day in the capital city. 164 have died this winter and with the cold wave raging there will be many more. The city has only 180 shelters some tents or portacabins. All together they can at best accommodate 10000 persons. There are at least 300 000 homeless in Delhi. You do the maths.

Many have to face the 'sleep mafia' that controls where and for how long you sleep,  at a hefty cost of course. In a land where the State has abdicated its duty to provide the basic survival amenities to its poor, mafias walk in to fill the gap where needed and sleep is one such area. So quilts and space are up for takes to the best bidder. And as this new business grows, the state seems to withdraw further and further. Is poverty becoming the latest entrant in the business world. Who knows.

I wonder whether anyone of us has tried to imagine what life for a homeless looks like. We look forward to returning home and almost take it for granted. Home means a warm meal, a warm bed, warm water at the flick of a switch, smiles and stories shared around a hot cuppa. The homeless, after toiling the whole day, has to figure out where he will sleep. He may need to count his money and decide between a hot meal and a warm quilt. It is easier when he is alone, but what about families who are homeless, small babies, aged parents. I cannot begin to imagine what they go through night after night.

Seems like we have lost our ability to feel the pain of the other as these people are not invisible. Peer out of your car window when you drive back from your next party, you will see them on the road, near over bridges or at construction sites.

That the homeless should be compelled to warm themselves at funeral pyres is a shocking but real reflection of who we have become as a society. Need I say more.