06 August, 2018


1. Aren’t the mosquitos the most menacing problem of the monsoons for us and our little ones? During winter the quilt, during rains an absolutely water-proof roof and during the summer a proper ceiling fan, if not the AC are the birthrights of the middle classes. An attached toilet is, of course, a given, and near-total privacy is an absolute must for those higher on the economic ladder. For most of us life becomes simply unlivable without these. 2. For vast numbers of the urban poor all of these are a distant dream, an almost unattainable desire. Most have already given up on these so completely that they don’t even resent their absence. Their bedrooms are the footpaths and parking of the malls of our cities and metros. When we drive, post dinner, happily past the shut malls and bazars, we notice these hordes only as a nuisance, ‘dirtying our place’. Places where we wouldn’t let our dogs rest, nor pick up low-cost objects fallen on the ground, are the cherished bed-floors of multitudes of our countrymen, our fellow-humans, our brethren. 3. ‘The world is one large family’. Bunkum. ‘India is one nation’. Bunkum+Hypocrisy squared. The former India doesn’t even recognize the existence of the latter India! 4. The labourers, load-lifters, rickshaw pullers, even drivers that drive our children to schools and us to offices, literally spend their lives on these pavements that we rarely touch, and with nothing but our feet, and never without shoes on. 5. The concrete layers, fitters, carpenters, masons, welders, plumbers… that make our flats, bungalows, malls, schools and other institutions… seldom get to enter in them ever again. 6. They have to struggle and compete, sometimes quarrel amongst themselves, to eke out a 10-Sq Ft space for sleeping on these footpaths, dividers and side-roads, [until some inebriated celebrity’s SUV mows them down]. 7. Often their only belonging is that multipurpose piece of cloth that must serve as a bed-sheet, a cover, a towel, and a turban to shield against the scorching sunlight or to cushion below their headload of concrete vessel. For those lucky who own a pair, shoes or chappals come handy as pillow, simultaneously preempting their theft. 8. Forget mosquito, ceiling fan, heater or quilt, a bed or a cushion… they do not get a levelled space large enough to stretch fully. Toilet? Privacy? Indeed, some of them don’t even get to sleep till the last diners and boozers have left. They must yet get up before the municipality sweeper descends. Stray dogs are both their fiercest competitors and sometimes enduring companions. Occasionally, a lowly placed cop may descend to collect hafta. Elsewhere the mafia does this duty. 9. Guess where these people ease themselves? Bathe? Drink water from? Where do they store their belongings, however modest? 10. Ask, also, whether human Testosterone checks bank balances? Does the poor not feel sexual urge? Do the married ones - who get to visit home barely for a week in six months, if they are lucky, that is, to find a place on train-roofs during holiday seasons - not miss their wives? Do they, indeed, not love each other? 11. Those labourers who dared to venture and brought their families – a co-working wife, two or three malnourished children, a trunk of clothing – their plight is even harder to imagine. Sleeping itself is a perpetual nightmare for them. While the wife has always been the target of the menacing gaze of passers-by, the growing up little daughter becomes the cynosure of all and sundry, and, therefore, a net liability for the family. These men live in an additional fear of molestation, abduction and rape of their wards. 12. Returning to the male folk alone: Now, think, why most of these hapless men suffer these inhuman discomforts, denials and indignities? For the noblest of instincts: to send money back home to treat ailing and aging grandparents and parents, feed and clothe their wives, siblings and children. They earn enough to be able to live, singly, with a modicum of dignity, but given the cost of living in cities, a mere bed-and-bathe facility would cost their children’s school fee or wives’ gas bill or grandma’s pills. 13. They have suffered for their families for years, and will almost certainly, for the rest of their lives. They are punished for not abandoning their filial responsibilities. But, for us, they exist merely as a nuisance in our parks, on our pavements, in front of our decorated stores and offices. 14. Watch the accompanying images, and replace yourself for them. And feel the excruciating pain in your back, underneath your head and below your buttocks. Feel the friction of the dirty, uneven, stone and tiles. Smell the filth you threw all day long that will only be cleaned the next morning, the sweat of fellow labourers, the defecation of cows, and the sniff of the dogs. If you aren’t sleeping tight enough, fear for losing your chappals and the towel itself. 15. Learn, if you can, to ignore the incessant dog barks, the menacing headlights and horns of zooming cars, the street lamp right overhead, the blinking LEDs on signboards upfront, the army of mosquitos, the cockroaches, the ants and what not. Learn to entertain yourself to the blaring music of passing vehicles of spoilt brats, the mosquito’s hum, the squabbles of drunkards, the customary cautionary calls of the watchman. Sleep well, for you have a hard day ahead. No mercy would be shown to late sleepers the next morning. Indeed, they will miss their turn on the nearest public toilet and may have to go very far. 16. Does all this have to be so sickening for citizens of a nation that unshackled slavery seven decades ago? Can this sheer barbarity, this cruelty not be minimized? Do these wretched creatures have to wait the Bullet Train, the Olympic games, the visit of American or Chinese Presidents, or a plague or other pestilence, for their fate to improve? 17. THINK! Do we not have affordable solutions to alleviate this intolerable human suffering? We do. In fact, we can solve most of these troubling issues – at least for the male folk - with a little reprioritizing of urban resources and some alternate thinking. But there is a huge bottleneck that we must first cross: our indifference. It begins with our reckoning these wretched people as fellow humans, and then feeling their suffering. 18. For a first-hand experience, try to eat one dinner squatting on any of those footpaths. And control your bladder and the bowels till the next morning. If this sounds crude, isn’t ignoring this suffering cruel? SO, WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? Here are some simple steps that we as a society can take, pretty easily and swiftly, that can offer these unfortunate brethren of ours a shelter for the night with some dignity and lesser pain. 19. GARDENS AS NIGHT SHELTERS a. Open up all public gardens and parks, river-fronts, causeways et al for the homeless to sleep, from, may be, 9 PM to 6 AM b. Sure, to soothe the no-sayers, post a few cops to watch against boozers, thieves, quarrelsome workers and property damagers. [Perhaps withdrawing just 10% of those serving VIP bandobast duty would suffice] c. Or at least earmark a part of these places for this purpose, letting the rest for the morning walkers, joggers, dog-walkers and what have you. d. Construct some more and allow access to rudimentary, functional, toilets and bath cubicles, even against a nominal fee. 20. OPEN UP RELIGIOUS BUILDINGS a. Muslims of India can scarcely find a more effective, and cheaper tool to strike against communalism and promote communal harmony in one short, charm-offensive, by simply opening the doors of their mosques, or a part thereof. b. Not only can a portion be reserved for this purpose but even the entire mosque can be offered till one hour before the Fajr namaz [early morning prayer] c. Since ablution is a must in a mosque, and customarily even wash-rooms, offering bathing facility is not all that difficult. d. Much of this holds good for the Temples, Dargahs and Ashrams, Churches, Derasars and Gurudwaras. e. What use God’s place if not useful for God’s unfortunate creatures, after all? 21. MANDATE PUBLIC OFFICES a. All non-sensitive government buildings, public offices, their corridors, courtyards and lawns should be made available for the purpose mandatorily by law b. They should also provide wash facility c. Those well-equipped may also offer some type of locker or storage facility to keep up to one trunk per person 22. ENCOURAGE INDUSTRY PARTICIPATION a. Offer an Income Tax reduction to those industrialists that provide such furnished shelter to their labourers, pro-rata. Industrial labourer, after all, constitutes the bulk of this wretched humanity. b. Recognize, award and decorate the do-gooders; publicize best practices and feature good Samaritans c. Consider making it mandatory for factories employing over 50 workers to ensure that all their workers do have a shelter to sleep. d. Offer special deductions or other forms of state concessions to those housing Labourer’s familites. 23. LAUNCH SPECIAL WORKER’S TRAINS a. If you can have summer holiday specials for the middle class, why not connect the cities served by migrant population with those exporting such labour? b. Launch special trains exclusively for workers. Reserve accommodation for the workers, farm-hands and domestic servants. Deny these trains to the rich. c. Take action against railway and bus authorities for not providing adequate travel facilities on such labour-routes. 24. WHAT NEXT? a. If this has touched a chord LIKE and SHARE this post, and please TAG a lot of your friends. b. We are hosting an electronic petition urging the agencies we named above to do as requested. Will you sign it, if we did? c. Offer comments adding to, expanding upon or repudiating specific points, offering alternative suggestions and approaches d. If you wish to write privately, please post your message to the inbox or write directly to info{at}sprat{dot}in commencing the subject line with: Night Shelter.. --------------------------- Hasan Jowher is a rationalist social activist and works with a NGO, SPRAT

No comments:

Post a Comment