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There may be hope for the homeless

For the first time in Maharashtra, a group of NGOs have come together to form the Akhil Bharatiya Beghaar Mahasangh (ABBM) to take up issues of urban homelessness.

This paper had reported how the the state government had, in an affidavit to Supreme Court, lied by naming Non Government Organisation-run shelters for children as those for the homeless, in response to the apex court’s 2010 instruction to states to create shelters in cities with over five lakh people. (‘The state government’s big fat lie to the Supreme Court’, February 5, 2012).

The first convention of the ABBM was held on Friday at the Marathi Patrakar Sangh office in Girgaon and was attended by above 600 homeless citizens, representatives of member NGOs Aakar Mumbai, Alternative Realities, Salaah, Sambhav Foundation, Lokanche Dost and Bal Hakka Abhiyan. The convention was led by noted workers’ rights champion, Dr Baba Adhav.

“So far, NGOs have been working independently on the issue of homelessness in the city and state. This time, however, we (six member NGOs) have decided to unite under the banner of Akhil Bharatiya Beghaar Mahasangh to give the much required momentum to the homeless movement, organise the unorganised and give an identity to the faceless homeless citizens,” explained Abhishek Bharadwaj, founder president of Alternative Realities, a member NGO and the first to start work on issues of homeless citizens in Mumbai in 2004.

The convention raised several issues and demands of homeless citizens. The first demand that came up was that of identity proof (ration card, voter ID card and so on) for homeless citizens. The second was to provide homeless citizens caste certificates so they could avail benefits of available government schemes meant for specific castes. The convention also demanded the implementation of the 2010 Supreme Court directive which says that every city with a population of over 5 lakh must have at least one 24/7 shelter per one lakh population. The next demand was to provide mobile toilets, public water taps, and anganwadis for homeless citizens and the last was to stop the atrocities of the government authorities on the homeless, who are subjected to routine raids, are beaten, verbally abused and have their belongings burnt or destroyed.

Several homeless citizens shared the podium with Dr Adhav and representative NGOs. Bharti, a widowed ragpicker, who lives with her two children on Hanuman Road in Vile Parle (east), lost the last earning member in her family, her father, in one such raid two years ago. “It was the monsoons and my father had TB. During one of their routine raids, the authorities demolished our temporary tarpaulin sheet structure and confiscated our belongings. My father died two days after the raid on that very street,” Bharti said.

“The government spends Rs 110, daily, on every person lodged in a jail. But the state doesn’t have any budget for homeless citizens without criminal record who contribute to the nation’s economy by working in several unorganised sectors,” Dr Adhav said. No government policies reach them because the government doesn’t think it’s important to give them citizenship proof — their basic right, he explained.

“If, by August 15, the state doesn’t decide to provide homeless citizens identity proofs, we will all pick up the tricolour and march towards jails and demand that we be given food and shelter inside,” he concluded.  

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