Chethan Kumar | TNN | Oct 28, 2018, 11:37 IST
As the sun sets, Bengaluru is restless in parts, quiet and at peace in other places – the sky transitions from scarlet to indigo, the skyscrapers blaze in bright colours and artificial lights. The chic high streets and the somber underbelly both go to sleep too at some point, and as most of Bengaluru rests, thousands spend restless nights clinging to their already shattered dreams of making it big in the city with opportunities. They are under the flyover, by the shop shutters, on closed drains.
Early on Friday, a team of High grounds police personnel rushed to an ATM on Race Course Road. It wasn’t a robbery. Their task, as they found when they reached the spot, was to clear out a dead body of a man. He was barely 40, had no ID on him. His only belongings were a cardboard box, an empty packet of moonshine and a water bottle. As of Saturday, he is another unidentified body. No name. No home.
There are tens of such people who’ve been given a burial by the authorities every year. Most of them are shelterless thanks to apathy from consecutive governments. Thousands of others are still pulling through, scouting for space under flyovers or pavements on bylanes every night, and waking up to a day without hope. STOI spent a night trying to talk to some of the homeless in the city most of whom are from rural areas where the economies do not provide for even the minimum standards of living—and most of them refrained from talking. “We are not beggars; we don’t need
your help. Go,” they said.
There is a reason for this apprehension: More than 90% of the homeless in Bengaluru are not beggars, they work in construction, at markets, in hotels “But the minute they are in limelight, authorities pick them up and throw them in the Beggar’s colony. That’s not the place for them, they must be treated with respect,” S Rajani, an activist working for the rights of the homeless says.
In 2010, the Supreme Court directed all state governments to set up at least one night shelter for every 1 lakh people in all towns and cities with a population of 10 lakh or more. Eight years later the situation is pathetic. The city needs 100 night shelters to accommodate the homeless. There are four!
Selvi, 38, who sleeps on the pavement outside Shivajinagar bus stand, says: “I came to Bengaluru 30 years ago, and got into construction work. I was initially paid Rs 9 a day, then it became 13, and 15 and so on, but it became very difficult after my parents died, and I married very young. Today, my husband Jagadish, and I still don’t have a home.”
Jagadish works at a kerosene godown, while Selvi sells combs and other plastic items. “We are left with about Rs 250 at the end of every day. Since we have no place to cook, we are forced to eat out three times a day, and you know how expensive food is in Bengaluru,” Jagadish, who injured his left arm after a fire accident, says.
They are not alone, Manormani, 52, Saroja, 50, Palaniammal, 55,—the list goes on— are all hard working women, who have no place to sleep. They are dependent on government toilets to bathe too. Many others, in areas like City Market, Kalasipalya, Majestic, the area around Infant Jesus Church in Viveknagar, the new areas of city,
are all subject to similar fate.
The 2011 census says there are 4,647 homeless families (15,333 people) in Bengaluru. But the 2011 census had only one night to count the homeless, which experts say was insufficient to count the actual number of homeless people in the city.
In 2010, a group of NGOs had estimated that there were a little more than 18,000 homeless people, but their survey, as they themselves admitted, was a limited by manpower and other resources’ constraints.
As of today, NGOs say that there are at least 25,000 people sleeping on the streets of Bengaluru, while another few thousands live in makeshift huts. Most of them are migrants, and become employed in manual and menial labour positions, such as construction workers; head loading (shifting goods from place to another by carrying it on their head), rag-pickers, street sweepers; cobblers; waiters and cleaners in hotels, wedding halls, and public places; security personnel, trinket sellers; waste collectors and managers who segregate waste into plastic, metal, et al; and street vendors. All lowpaying jobs, with several of them being even seasonal.
Also, these groups rarely have regular or permanent jobs, and instead live on daily wages which are unprotected—many workers have no recourse when they are cheated out of payments. And, because they don’t have a roof over their head or claim a permanent address, they are often deprived to get their civil and political rights, such as ID cards for voting and food under public distribution system (PDS) and are not entitled to any of the social welfare schemes and elementary public services like water, food, sanitation, health and education.
This is despite their legal right to shelter as guaranteed by the Indian Supreme Court. That people in India have a right to shelter, with each State supposed to offer night shelters.
The state government has so far set up only 33 shelters across the state, which is abysmally low given that there are several towns like Mysuru, Mangaluru, Hubbali- Dharwad, Belagavi, Ballari, among a few others that need shelters.
Overall, there are only 33 shelters, and they cater to 749 inmates – 584 male, 140 female and 25 children—and a few more are promised. But it is not enough. Subhash C Khuntia, former chief secretary and now the chairman of the Independent Committee on Shelters for Urban Homeless set up by the government concedes to this. “The situation is not as we want it to be. Some other towns are still slightly better, but we want Bengaluru to have at least another 16 shelters soon.”
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), which is responsible for putting in place these shelters, activists say is least interested in welfare. “They are so callous about the issue,” one of them said.
In 2013, there were about 10 shelters in Bengaluru, by January 2018 that number had reduced to six, and now there are just four, catering to just 95 people, only nine of whom are women.
“We are aware of the problem and we will take it up on priority. While we will soon have 10 shelters operating, we will need at least two to three years to make 100 operational,” BBMP commissioner N Manjunath Prasad says, adding that the Palike will also seek funds from the Centre.