Vicky Sharma (27) quit his Bachelor’s degree midway in 2011 in a desperate attempt to find a job in Delhi. He ran away from his home in Jammu’s Doda district and arrived in the capital, only to be robbed near Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. He stayed there for the next two years, becoming one of the city’s many homeless people. In 2013, however, an NGO rescued Sharma and offered him a job of a caretaker at a night shelter.
The caretakers across approximately 200 night shelters in the city are homeless men and women, who are involved with NGOs that manage them. However, a recent tender by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) — which mandates that all caretakers should be class X graduates — has left many of them in the lurch.
As per the tender, “Construction and Management of Night Shelters”, caretakers should have “minimum qualification of matriculate”.
DUSIB CEO Shurbir Singh told The Indian Express that the clause has been introduced for the first time: “The success of night shelters depends on the caretakers, so there has to be a minimum educational requirement. If they are literate, they will be able to file records and run the shelter smoothly. If they are not eligible now, they can educate themselves or NGOs can find them other jobs.”
For Sharma, the move comes as a blow. “When I began working as a caretaker, earning Rs 8,500 a month, I stopped thinking about the BA degree that I didn’t finish and my estranged family… now it’s coming back to haunt me as I can’t produce any certificates because I can’t go back home,” he said.
Protesting the move, the Federation of Homeless Collective wrote to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on November 6, demanding “relief regarding educational qualifications required for the post of a caretaker at night shelters”.
The letter states that “…preference should be given to the homeless as no one understands the plight of those coming to night shelters better than them”.
Sonu Yogesh (34), another caretaker at night shelter number 150 at Chilla Khadar, said he has not passed class X, but can read and write in Hindi. “The supervisor can’t do anything… he has asked me not to come to work from December 1. I have been doing my job without a class X certificate for three years… I just have to enter details of people who come in, give them blankets, tell doctors who visit about aches and pains… Now I will have to look for another job,” he said.
Class VIII pass-out Moinuddin (32), who has been a caretaker at night shelters for a decade, said he has signed up for ‘open school’.
“I can read and write Hindi and English and do diary entries in both languages… Experience is more important than education for the job… I know how to handle situations at shelters, but suddenly I am not eligible,” he said.
Sunil Kumar Aledia of the Centre for Holistic Development, which works with the homeless, said, “… the caretakers have broken the cycle of poverty to find some ground; now they’re being pushed out again. The clause will do more damage.”
Vinay Stephen of NGO Sadik Masih, that works with the homeless and at night shelters, said, “We are employing class X pass-outs, but are hoping to get relief from DUSIB so people don’t lose jobs.”