By Bhavey & Arindam
Salma (name changed) works as domestic help in Munirka. She lives under the Ber Sarai flyover for the day and in a 'Rain Basera' (night shelter) during night with her two sons. Her location is less than 100 meters away from the shelter which can room her but she prefers to stay outside during daytime. "We get very less food at the shelter and they don't allow us to cook inside. So, I am forced to stay outside so I can prepare meals for my family", she said.
Delhi being the capital attracts people across the country in search of a better future. Every year, according to 2011 census data, 5.6 million people migrate to Delhi but not everyone can afford a place to live here, certainly not the daily wagers. Since November last year, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board's (DUSIB) rescue team has shifted more than 11,000 homeless people to night shelters. With winters approaching, in a bid to find the state of living conditions of such labourers, the reporters of this story visited a night shelter in R K Puram colony of South Delhi.
Free night shelters come at a cost
Salma alleged that the authorities of the night shelter demand money from her husband. "Dadalog (goons) demand 10 rupees per night from my husband. 300 rupay mahina to yahi ho gaya. Kahan se layenge paise? Vo yahan pul ke niche hi sota hai fir." [If we spend 300 rupees per month on this, where do we get the money from? So he sleeps under the flyover]. However, this claim was rejected by the accounts officer who was the supervising coordinator for a day. "These are blatant lies. No one asks for money here," he said furiously.
Located under Ber Sarai flyover, this shelter includes three units. With land sanctioned by Delhi Government, the shelter is managed by Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM) - an NGO that runs almost 44 night shelters in the capital.
"We don't get proper bed linen and the ones provided are soiled and unwashed for over a month", says Ragini (name changed), a daily wager from Bihar. Ragini migrated to Delhi with her husband and elder son 5 years ago. The SPYM again denied this claim, however, we found many other homeless derelicts at the shelter to corroborate the woes faced there.
Delhi government claims to have built 3064 dwelling units but more than 1100 people have refused to shift due to lack of beds, unhygienic conditions and their chief livelihood of begging on the streets.
Beggary: Subsistence or vulnerability
But it's not easy to shift homeless people to night shelters as they are reluctant to shun their begging practice. Project coordinator of SPYM, Roshan Kumar comments, "It's difficult to convince these people to give up begging in order to plan a better future for their children. They earn easy money on the streets but they start indulging in drugs and other crimes. Running such shelters is not easy. It requires a lot of investment and manpower to run a good shelter and all of these require funding and, thankfully, donors come often to donate various things."
"To incentivize their stay in shelters, we run schools in these shelters and also admit children to local government schools. Meals are also provided thrice a day but it's really hard to convince them as money is most lucrative to them", said Pooja Sharma who is a coordinator at the shelter.
This issue keeps creeping every season, be in rains, or merciless sun or pitiless winters, and there seems to be no respite from the unhygienic conditions, the army of rodents, the lack of sanitation facilities in the state-run shelters. While the night shelter occupants and coordinators are at odds, the paltry condition of the night shelters does not leave much to imagination and the preference to sleep on the footpath on a chilling night bears testimony to the state of the night shelters.