Among the documents 60-year-old Shantabai Pawar carries in a small plastic bag is her voting card, to prove that she has been a resident of Colaba for over two decades, even though there has been no roof over her head all these years.
Among the nearly 50 members of the Phase Pardhi denotified community living near Gateway of India, Pawar and other homeless people like her regularly face police action. “During elections, someone from each party comes to us seeking our vote. After the elections, the same authorities initiate action against us, including arresting us for being a nuisance to other residents. But, none of them work for giving us our most basic right, a roof over our heads,” Pawar says.
On Friday, Pawar spent her day outside the Esplanade court, after six persons from her community, including a pregnant woman, were arrested under the Juvenile Justice Act by Colaba police. The action also included sending 13 children, including infants, either to a children’s home or prison along with their parents. The police told court that the children were being made to beg, while Pawar says, they even showed bonafide documents that some of them had come home for summer vacations from an ashram school in Solapur.
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“They are on the streets as the government has failed to provide shelter homes for them. Instead of rehabilitation, they are imprisoned,” Pallavi Thakare, a member of Koshish, a field action project of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which works with Pawar’s community, said. The lack of attention by political parties towards the homeless can be seen from the lack of their mention in any of their manifestos for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. City-based NGO Pehchan, which also works for the rights of homeless in the city, says that the major political parties have released their manifestos, but none of them mentioned anything about urban homeless across the country.
Brijesh Arya of NGO Pehchan said that they have made a charter of demands for the homeless in the city, but nobody has shown an interest in taking it up. The charter focuses on some of the important demands like rehabilitation with tenurial rights within 3-km radius of current place of stay, mandatory provisions in city development plans (CDPs) for reservation of land for housing for low income groups, adequate functional 24-hour homeless shelters with access to free healthcare, clean drinking water, toilets, childcare and children’s education, as per the orders and guidelines of the Supreme Court.
Besides, considering the vulnerability of women, the charter has chalked out a special plan for welfare of women. “Twenty-four hour shelter homes for homeless women as a priority, more subsidies, public toilets and bathing areas for women, better streetlights and police patrolling at night to ensure no women are forced to sleep on the streets. Involvement of homeless women in making of policies designed for women’s welfare are few important things that need to be taken up,” the charter states.
“It’s disappointing that no political party takes up the issue of homeless in their election campaigns. They want votes from homeless people, but they don’t talk and do anything for their long-pending issues. This election has also proved same as 2014. In terms of shelter homes for homeless, Mumbai has a very poor record. The BMC claims that they have eight shelter homes but none of them meet the requirements and parameters for shelter homes,” Arya said.