According to a 2011 census, India is home to 1.77 million homeless people. Even though there is no official census for the homeless population in Delhi, in 2000, the NGO Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA) counted them to be 52,765. AAA is a New Delhi-based organization that has helped more than 7,000 of Delhi’s homeless find homes. With the help of a mobile clinic run by the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), AAA is working to diagnose and treat those who suffer from mental illnesses.
After campaigning and preparing for on-the-ground implementation, the volunteers working with AAA were assigned to certain areas. The volunteers approached homeless people in that community and, one by one, accompanied them to a nearby health clinic for a checkup. Afterward, they gave them a place to stay until they fully recovered and were able to depend on themselves.
However, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. “There are several challenges such as maintaining the hygiene and making arrangements to provide basic necessities to the homeless,” said Sanjay Kumar, AAA’s deputy director. “These things cannot be done by force and needs an innate motivation to help the needy, undeterred by the constraints or even resistance from the shelter inmates in some cases.” The NGO faces lots of obstacles during their social work with Delhi’s homeless community – the most significant obstacle being financing. Although they’ve been receiving emotional support from both the public and private sector, they argue that sponsoring institutions in both sectors are only willing to finance those social activist organizations that can give back financial or political profit.
India is notorious for its homelessness situation; there is a common satirical statement that if you gathered all of India’s homeless people and put them in a new country, its population would be larger than those of 83 countries. The three districts of Delhi-Central, New Delhi, and Delhi-North rank third, fifth, and sixth, respectively, when it comes to homelessness in the country.
Marham is another Delhi-based NGO working to shelter Delhi’s thousands of homeless people. Its president, Irtiza Quraishi, explains that one of the reasons behind Delhi’s homeless crisis is that young people, mainly from mainly from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and the eastern state of Bihar, move to Delhi seeking work and money, but many find the reality of the big city to be completely different from what they thought, and end up on the streets.
Advocate Sugriv Dubey submitted a petition in March before the Delhi High Court asking the municipalities to provide more homeless shelters, separating males and females to protect homeless girls from common incidents of sexual violence. Dubey believes that, without more homeless shelters and the separation of men and women, people will sleep on the footpaths. “In the summer, they will die with the heat. In winter, they will die with the cold. So at least let them reside peacefully. Give them some space.”