The Vulnerabilities of the Homeless Are Due to the State's Failure To Provide Any Security -Brijesh Arya and Maggie Paul
The perception has grown over the years that those without any shelter are somehow getting a free ride.
Headlines across several newspapers on the afternoon of July 3 declared “homeless and beggars should work; everything cannot be provided to them by the state”. This statement was attributed to the Bombay high court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S. Kulkarni during its hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Brijesh Arya, who works with the houseless community in Mumbai. In some reports, the court was also observed as saying:
“They (the homeless) should also work for the country…Everyone is working. Everything cannot be provided by the government, otherwise it will increase their numbers. You (petitioner) are just encouraging the increasing of such a population of society” [Emphasis added].
Story of the PIL
The PIL, Brijesh Arya vs MCGM and Ors (2021), was filed with regards to relief measures for the houseless by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) during the second wave of COVID-19 and the associated lockdown imposed in April this year. The petitioner is one of the authors of this article.
Filed during the thick of the lockdown in May, the petition’s main intention was “to ensure that the authorities take remedial steps to protect the urban poor namely the homeless who ought to have an equitable chance at meaningful survival through adequate services like food, water and basic civic services”.
Citing the multiple effects that the lockdown(s) have had on the houseless – especially loss of regular means of livelihood, shrinking of traditional sources of water supply and reduced income to purchase nutritious food, maintain personal hygiene and access paid public toilets for their sanitary needs – it sought that effective long-term relief measures be put in place by MCGM. It pointed out that despite some measures by the state government like provision of free food grains and Shiv Bhojan Thalis, these were not accessible to most of the houseless due to lack of information, documentation required or inaccessible locations. It, therefore, pleaded that the respondents, especially MCGM, ensure nutritious cooked meals, access to potable water, sanitary products for girls and women as well as free usage of public toilets for the houseless.
The argument of the litigation draws on and is supported by several studies about the impact of the lockdown on the urban poor, particularly the houseless. The preliminary findings in the city of Mumbai of Humaree Pehchaan’s ongoing comparative research on everyday insecurities of houseless populations in Indian cities during the COVID-19 lockdown point towards a clear exacerbation of precarities. Lockdown induced loss of work avenues has severely affected their capability to manage nutritional needs – for which they are still seeking dwindling support from civil society. It has pushed them further into an intergenerational transmission of poverty with long-term effects on their children’s education, deployment of all assets for daily survival needs and the possibility of long-term lack of opportunities. The Hunger Watch Report released this year to track the status of hunger, access to food and livelihood security among disadvantaged populations in the wake of the nationwide lockdown says in its finding: “Levels of hunger and food insecurity remained high with little hope of the situation improving without measures specifically aimed at providing employment opportunities as well as food support”.
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TheWire.in, 20 July, 2021, https://thewire.in/rights/homeless-people-state-failure-security-bombay-high-court