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A very 'Cold Wave' indeed...

INDIA | Monday, 10 January 2011 | Views [434]

There we were on a cold winters morning enjoying a hot cup of chai from a roadside vendor on the slow to get going streets of Delhi.... suddenly two women bearing bamboo poles and a bundle wrapped up in a blanket with two children trailing along stopped on the opposite side of the road. With incredible precision they proceeded to hammer in pegs to the asphalt and set up a balancing pole supported by bamboo beams. The blanket was unwrapped to reveal a couple of stainless steel thali plates and a stick. A bright eyed, tiny girl of about 8 years old grinned a toothy grim as she shimmied up the pole and proceeded to woo the ever increasing crowd with a variety of dexteritious trapeze acts to the drumming on thali plates. I tried not to notice there was no safety net and was concerned the just walking toddler was going to be sent up to perform alas....  And just as quickly as the the foursome had appeared they past around a plate for a 'donation', packed up and blended back into the throng of people as the new day got underway. All part of the street theatre that is India.

Delhi is cold. Sunday (at 11 degrees) was the coldest day in 42 years. An icy wind whips through the nations capital as it blows down from the newly snow clad slopes of Northern India. Some days a damp gloomy fog envelopes the urban space. Shapeless blanketed figures sleep silently on the sidewalk. A stark reminder of the sheer number of 'faceless' unknown people who by day may be day labourers, cycle rickshaw wallahs or rag pickers - people who perform necessary daily tasks to keep this city functioning. 

They have no home. Most will send their hard earned rupees back to support entire families in rural villages. And there will be women who have fled domestic violence and children who have decided life is easier on the street than confronting the sexual and physical violence they may face at home. Some have been displaced by so called 'development' projects across the country. While others like the fellow around the corner who caked in mud with hair matted, sits silently, all day - every day because there is no where to send someone with mental health issues. Or the old, proud, turbaned one legged man (who now wears Scott's jacket) who has no family or community to fall back on for support.  Then there are the heroin users and glue sniffers who try to numb the reality that is their life. They are all there. Part of the street theatre that makes Delhi.  

Every night this year dead bodies of men, women and children have been found across the city. But thanks their category of 'beggar type' they do not even merit an inquiry into their cause of death. There are no 'official' statistics on the true numbers of the dead, for one simple reason: they don't count. Being homeless is almost a crime.

Unless these citizens are treated as such, unless the bulldozing of slums is disallowed, and unless people are treated with dignity the plight of the homeless will continue. And as wealthier Deelhiites come out onto the streets in the morning to face the day after a hot shower, a night with the fan heater on and blankets to snuggle under, I wonder if they think of the person who built their house, picked up their rubbish or brought them safely home from work, and where they slept last night?*



*There are some wonderful NGO's who have set up night shelters across the city (some catering for up to 450 people) & the High Court ruled that extra shelters be set up across the city but they are already overflowing....

Tags: cold wave, homeless, street theatre delhi



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