Karnal’s homeless left out in the cold as shelter denies them admission without Aadhaar
Karnal: I spent the night of February 22 out on the streets of Karnal city in Haryana. The temperature dipped to a chilly 12°C and despite my jacket, I found myself shivering as I chatted with homeless people holed up near the overbridge on the Karnal-Chandigarh highway, under the ITI overbridge, and on footpaths under bus stand awnings. I even spent time with some homeless people on verandahs of government buildings. Most of them don’t have blankets and their clothes are in tatters. They wrap themselves up in polythene bags picked up from the streets or light small fires from trash heaps by the roadside to keep themselves warm. They intermittently sip tea bought from a tea vendor that remains open all night near the overbridge on the highway.
There is a night shelter in Karnal with a capacity of 50, and it sees about 50 percent occupancy, but these homeless people are not allowed into the shelter because they don’t have Aadhaar cards. Yes, now even the homeless need Aadhaar for identification to be allowed into night shelters. It’s ironic because one needs to have a permanent address to be able to apply for an Aadhaar card, and how can homeless people produce an address?
According to Karnal Red Cross secretary Dr Sunil Kumar, 500 homeless people are registered in the administration records. About 80 percent of them make a living by begging while others do odd jobs such as manual labour, rickshaw-pulling, etc. Karnal is the home constituency of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar. A survey conducted by the District Red Cross Societies for the Haryana government in 2010 found there were 1,633 urban homeless families constituting 5,491 homeless people in the state. But Haryana has only 13 shelters for the homeless with a capacity of 858 people, according to this government website.
Rajesh Pashi, 40, who hails from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, has been living on the streets for about a decade. He works as a labourer and earns about Rs 3,000 per month, but can’t afford a roof over his head. “Paisa ghar bejna hota hai, khana-peene ka paisa rakh kar baaki bhej deta hoon, rehne par paisa kaise kharch karoon (I have to send money home. I keep some money aside for food and send the rest home; how can I spend money on accommodation)?” says Pashi.
Until last year, he would stand in the queue outside the night shelter and would get lucky sometimes. But he’s been forced to sleep out on the streets since Aadhaar was made mandatory to stay at the shelter in November 2017. “I don’t have any address proof to be able to apply for Aadhaar,” he adds.
Dilbag Singh (54), a resident of Sonipat district who is homeless in Karnal, says he’s applied for Aadhaar three times, but he hasn’t got it as he doesn’t have the requisite documents. “I was asked to produce my permanent residence proof and I don’t have it with me here (in Karnal), hence my application was turned down,” he says.
Lokesh Saini (38) alias Laddi from Kurukshetra district of Haryana is another such homeless person. He gets along by begging on the streets of Karnal, getting Rs 50-60 in alms per day. “I never applied for Aadhaar as I didn’t need it for anything, but now, the night shelter caretaker demands an Aadhaar card and refuses to let me in. There is no one to listen to our grievances. How can Aadhaar card be more important than human beings?” asks Saini.
He adds this winter, some good samaritans visited the homeless one night and gave them some warm clothes and blankets. “Sab ek jaise todhe hi hain. Bus un logon ka sahara hain (Everyone is not the same. We have the support of some good people),” he says.
Karnal deputy commissioner Dr Aditya Dahiya confirmed that Aadhaar has been made mandatory for entry to night shelters. “We have asked the caretaker of the night shelter to permit visitors even without Aadhaar in cases the person is homeless,” Dahiya adds.
No night shelter? Let’s land ourselves in jail
Driven to desperation in their bid to stay off the streets in the cold, some of the homeless commit petty crimes like theft, get into street brawls, and gamble in order to be thrown into the district jail where they can spend their nights under a concrete roof. Those who manage to get into the jail wait till winter ends to apply for bail.
Singh says that the younger people can do physical labour to earn some money. It is usually the elderly who resort to such measures. “Imran of Uttar Pradesh and Mahipal of Ambala, who are in the district jail at present, purposely landed themselves there,” he says. Sher Singh, the superintendent of Karnal Jail, told 101 Reporters that while they’ve got information that people land themselves in jail purposely, he can’t comment officially on the matter as they don’t have anything on record.
Left to the mercy of nature, and destiny
Many homeless people lose their lives to the bitter Haryana cold every winter. Hariya Balmiki from Balu village of Kaithal district sadly speaks about Visheshwar (65) from Jharkhand, who never woke up from his sleep at the end of one cold night last week. “He was not well for some time and would buy medicines from the alms he got. His condition deteriorated in December-January when the cold was at its peak,” he says.
Sunil Mishra (70), a resident of Bihar, Ramswaroop (55) of Yamunanagar district, and Sant Lal (56), a resident of Shamli in Uttar Pradesh, also died while braving the cold this winter, informs Balmiki. He adds that hardly any homeless people live beyond 55-60 years as their malnourished bodies, wearied by years of toil and weakened by the vagaries of nature, are vulnerable to diseases.
Sleeping out in the open also leaves them vulnerable to different kinds of threats including accidents and sexual abuse. On January 18, a homeless person sleeping on the road was crushed by a speeding vehicle, informs Balmiki. Fortunately, he was rushed to the Civil Hospital and survived the accident. “At the night shelter, at least there was some sense of security and comfort,” says Balmiki.
According to the 2011 census, there are 1.77 million homeless people in India or 0.15% of the country’s total population. Districts in the north and west of the country have higher rates of homelessness than those in the south and east. Cities that attract labourers from surrounding farms and villages have particularly high rates of homelessness. In 2013, the Centre launched the Shelters for the Urban Homeless programme under the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) covering 790 cities. According to this report, just 658 shelters with a total capacity of 35,000 have been built under the scheme. About 90 percent of India’s homeless still live on the streets. As per norms laid down by the Supreme Court, there has to be one shelter with a capacity for 100 persons or two shelters for 50 persons each for every one lakh urban population.