Winter comes with poetic mist and crispy breeze. Days are for rubbing off the fog while crossing it and nights are for slipping into the quilt and relishing the warmth of a cup of coffee. The transparent dew drops in the morning, warm sun rays in the afternoon, evening mist and the cool breeze at night; these elements define the essence of winter and the charismatic symphony that croons pleasantly amidst the cold waves melting our ways with the nature. One can try to remove the blankets and take a chill dip into the air that is around.
While all this sounds poetic and one might become intoxicated from consuming the overwhelming winters; what we often forget to acknowledge is the hardships of those who don’t have shelters. The poor in Delhi shivers under the influence of the plummeted cold. Cardboards and tarpaulins are used as shields to protect themselves from the biting chills. The sight of the homeless quivering in the ruthless cold, heightens our senses and stirs our sensibilities to look for answers to the questions such as – what is the government doing to save them?
Although quite a few plans were shared by the Delhi government for the winters of 2016-17 – control room at the DUSIB office for 24*7 check on the condition of the homeless in the city, and the formation of a monitoring committee to supervise and maintain the winter shelters. Private spaces for families and dedicated floors for women occupants were also announced. But the current facts don’t reflect the foolproof ness of the plan.
The present status of winter shelters in Delhi is somewhat similar to the concentration camps in terms of the ratio between space and the number of people stuffed inside the space. People are skeptical of sleeping next to someone unknown and are terrified by the thought of sleeping in a closed unhygienic space. They don’t feel safer and are under constant fear that whatever little belongings they have might get stolen. There are reports of rats crawling over people in sleep and biting away the blankets. The water supply is not adequate and the windows and doors are broken, unable to stop the wind from entering the room. The women are scared to relieve themselves at night as they are surrounded by drug addicts and alcoholics lynching at them.
According to a report in Hindustan Times –
“Since 2000, nine surveys by NGOs – including one by the Commissioners of the Supreme Court – say there are between 52,000 and 2, 46,000 homeless people in the Capital. Around 22,000 check into shelters each night. There are 200 shelters open for all, 21 for women, 12 for children, 13 for families, five for drug addicts and two for disabled”
The need is to take some urgent steps to protect older people and children especially. Apart from hygienic and spacious shelters, the government has to depute representatives who can report the ground realities and can talk to the street dwellers about their problems. They must be able to convince them that the government is on their side and shelters are the best place for them to fight the cold. Otherwise years will pass and every winter we will be left with a few numbers representing the number of people died due to cold.