Clad in frayed woollens, draped in thin quilts and huddled around small fires, many of Delhi’s homeless say they would rather brave the harsh winter chill on the streets than being cramped into "stinky and murky" shelters.
The national capital has an estimated 150,000 homeless people and a majority of them camp outdoors throughout the year. And in the prevailing harsh winters, they battle all odds armed with just a couple of quilts and a few woollens.
But they would rather stack up cardboard sheets and blankets on footpaths instead of fighting for cramping space in an ill-maintained government night shelter, says one such destitute, Babli.
"I have lived on the streets for 25 years. My parents were also homeless. I sell balloons at traffic signals during the day. But we cook, sleep and bathe here on the footpath," Babli, who lives in Sector 6 of R.K. Puram in south Delhi, told IANS.
"We are not interested in going to those shelters. The conditions are awful. It stinks and the place is dingy with no place for people to walk around," said her husband Kadu.
Delhi has about 40 night shelters with a capacity for 6,000 people.
Taking cognizance of the mismatch in the numbers, the Supreme Court Wednesday ordered the Delhi government to provide night shelters to all the homeless in the capital by the evening.
While last year there were 46 shelters during winters, which included 17 permanent shelters and 29 temporary ones, this year the number has been reduced to 33 (17 permanent and 16 temporary). Of these 16 shelters, one was recently demolished, according to the Supreme Court Commissioners Report of Jan 13.
Said Vijay, another destitute staying on the streets for seven years: "We get no help from the government. At night instead, police officers come to shoo us away so we move away to the nearby parks for some time and return later."
He showed scars and bruises on his legs, which he alleged were marks of police beatings when he resisted moving.
Like him, Suraj too is homeless. Handicapped, he begs at traffic signals in central Delhi. But he said approaching the government for assistance was impossible.
"I used to live at a slum in south Delhi for many years but I have been living in the streets for a decade now. The government gave me a mobile public booth as help once, but that was stolen. Then I approached a minister for help but the staff there didn’t let me enter. We have no option but to beg for a living," he said.
Suraj with his wife Lakshmi and three young children camp each day on a footpath in south Delhi’s Moti Bagh colony surviving with seven pieces of woollen clothings and a few quilts as protection against the severe cold wave conditions.
–Indo-Asian News Service