Forget the vagaries of the weather, lack of security — particularly for girls and women — is their biggest threat They endure the cold, with some difficulty of course, and when it rains, wait patiently under any shelter. The hard footpath and yowling stray dogs are hardly deterrents for a night’s sleep. But crucially, for the homeless in the Shivajinagar area, what gives them sleepless nights is the lack of security for them and their families. Sleeping on the pavements around St. Mary’s Basilica, Lakshmita and her family — which includes four children aged between 4 and 11 — are left to fend for themselves. “There is a bar at the end of the street. Around midnight, when the men get drunk, they [creep on] us when we sleep and steal whatever little money we have,” she said. Daily battle It’s a daily battle for women. Lakshmita recounts incidents where the men grope and molest adolescent girls, and tug at the saris of women sleeping on the road. “They come as groups. When we push them away, they pick a fight with us,” she said. “Drunk men crowd around me or stare at me when I’m breastfeeding my child at night,” said Ammu, nursing one-year-old Velankanni. Kannan was beaten up by thugs a month ago. “Some drunken men came and chided us. When we asked them to go away, one of them caught me by the neck and shoved me against the wall,” he said. Migrants Lakshmita’s and Kannan’s families migrated from Tamil Nadu around eight years ago. They scrape a living collecting alms. Down these hardscrabble years, the families have developed a fear of the police and the authorities. “The police barely tolerate us sleeping illegally on the roads. When we complain about thugs and goons, they remind us that they let us stay on the roads,” said Lakshmita. Huddled in sheets and sleeping by the side of the road, the homeless are a ubiquitous sight in and around Russel Market. For Shanthi, who along with her father Ramesh Kumar (71), the footpath on Chandni Chowk has been home for more than two decades. It was a family dispute that left the two without a home. Just enough for food Kumar is partially blind and with his mobility impaired, he finds no employment. Shanthi picks up fallen nuts and bolts and sells them by the kg to a scrap yard. She manages to earn about Rs. 50 a day — barely enough for food, definitely not enough for a home. And without a home, the two are left to the vagaries of weather and people. Kumar’s joints ache with the cold, while Shanthi fumes at the insults from the inebriated rabble at night. “They treat us like lesser human beings. Some even kick us at night and run away,” she complained. The two have little security, and Shanthi said they have lost of lot of their pitiful possessions — from small wads of cash to the jute sacks they use to sleep in. “If not a home for us, the government should let us sleep in grounds or bus stands where we may be safe,” she sighed.
Sadly, even the homeless get robbed on our streets