Living on the fringes of the city in the most vulnerable conditions, a section of the homeless gathered under the banner of Beghar Adhikaar Abhiyan to demand their voices be carried to the corridors of power in Parliament.
“Not a single politician has come to us to have a dialogue or speak about what they can do for us. Every one speaks about the slums and the poor but nobody speaks about us who live without a roof over our head,” said Tulsi Thakur, who ekes out a living by selling toys at Girgaum Chowpatty.
About 10,000 of the homeless in Mumbai are registered voters. “I am voting for the first time as it was very difficult for me to get an election card. I don’t want to waste my vote but what option do I have? I am considering the NOTA option,” Ms. Thakur added.
While the Census data 2011 on the matter is still to be declared, the Mumbai municipality had counted 35,408 people as being homeless on their enumeration drive in February 2011. But, an independent census conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences last year had pegged the number of street children alone to 37,059.
“There are more than 3 lakh homeless citizens in Mumbai and nobody is interested in them. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK has included the issue of homeless shelters in their manifesto but this is not the case with any political party in Mumbai. Ironically, this is the only city where there are at least three generations of people living on the streets,” said Brijesh Arya, President of the Beghar Adhikaar Abhiyan.
The homeless have a clear set of demands for those who will be elected to power: the primary one being the setting up of homeless shelters as mandated by the Supreme Court. “We need basic physical necessities like water, housing, sanitation and education. Our involvement should be considered in city-level policy making process,” said Madhu Kharwa.