Brutal Winter

early_morning_fog.jpeYou wake up in the morning and take a look outside… a chill runs down your spine. It’s freezing outside and you rush to get a cup of impetuous coffee. The gauzy curtains flutter only to welcome the Delhi breeze, long waiting outside like a doormat. You switch on the television to know that there is a recent snowfall in Shimla. Oh! That’s why it’s so chilled out here. You wish you could have changed the direction of the Himalayas or ummm rather yourself. Neither. But still, there is an air of euphoria that floats above the shivering minds of the people. The glass panes on the cars are autographed with graffiti of mist.

Under the flyover, a man makes mouth-watering omlettes and places them amidst twin breads. People savour them with a glass of hot tea. Security guards or watchmen unite around a bonfire, and vent their emotions while rubbing their hands near the orange flares. As soon as the sun takes a peak, the green carpeted lawns of India Gate find themselves full of people. At home, there are old women busy knitting colourful sweaters and mufflers for young ones. A practical scenario of every house that furnishes the family with security and comfort! But for the thousands others who are unable to pursue these dreams, Delhi’s brutal winter has been their enemy this year.

Delhi has about 1.4 million homeless, which is roughly 10 per cent of its population. Existing night shelters cater to less than five per cent of the homeless in the metropolis. Delhi’s 24 night shelters, among which seven have been put up this year for the winter months, face the daunting task every night of accommodating the homeless, who work on the streets during the day but queue up outside these shelters at night for some scanty relief — a roof, a blanket and a mattress on the cold, cemented floor. People are allowed in till the shelter is full. Those who are late have to spend the night elsewhere, possibly on a railway platform. ‘An estimated 150,000 people are homeless in the national capital; nearly 10,000 destitute women have not even one designated shelter.’ For the women, it gets even worse. According to a survey done by Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), an NGO, between December 2006 and January 2007, there are nearly 100,000 homeless people on Delhi’s roads of which 10,000 are women. There are no lasting options for women who live on the streets and are seeking safety at night. They huddle together on railway platforms and around temples as most of the few shelter homes are located in cut off areas where women don’t feel safe going. There is no woman-specific shelter. As the chilling winds have been lashing the city, homeless women are forced to spend nights in the open, exposing themselves to the elements and the risk of sexual assault.While the entire focus is on making Delhi a world-class city before it plays host to Commonwealth Games in 2010, the mega upcoming sporting event has ended up creating more homeless in the city. With the shanties being demolished, the Government has unthinkingly caused the city to be more unsafe than it already is. Although this action is taken towards the development of the country, it puts its citizens at stake who are at no fault of their own. More shelters with specific provisions must be made and an organized allocation should be seen as the Government’s responsibility. Shelter homes with proper facilities were promised by the MCD officials before the winter officially set in. But have they woken up to the plight of the homeless, which has only worsened with the winter setting in? While most of us slip into the thick quilts in heated rooms to snooze off, we forget to realize how numb we become to those who are brutally frozen by the harsh winter. Tania Gupta