Homeless and destitute in a maze called Bengaluru
It’s a problem that could continue to grow even as we speak, and as we go about our own lives,assuming everything to be perfectly normal.
BENGALURU: In front of a row of shops opposite the Ganesha Temple on 8th Main, Malleswaram, between 17th and 17 ‘A’ crosses, sits a man who appears to be in his mid- or late-60s. At most times throughout the day, he sits, accompanied by two stray canines who seem to be his only companions. They are always there by his side, sitting when he sits, sleeping when he sleeps, eating when he eats whatever little that comes by.
When you see him, you know instantly that he is one among the thousands of homeless destitutes on the streets of Bengaluru. Just before the pandemic struck, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had estimated there to be about 25,000 such destitute elders on the streets of Bengaluru. You never know the exact figures or the precise seriousness of this problem that exists. It’s a problem that could continue to grow even as we speak, and as we go about our own lives,assuming everything to be perfectly normal.
This man with a grey, curly hair that could pass off as a puffed up crown on his head, wears a tattered shirt and trousers, and devotedly wears a ‘tikka’ on his forehead. An equally tattered cloth bag – and whatever its meager contents – seems to be his only possession. A flimsy cloth forms his “mattress”, often shared by the two dogs with him. Needless to say that he has been there for days goes to show that he is being fed, if not looked after, by the owners and employees of the shops which form the backdrop to his abode, if we can call it that.
He sits staring at nothing in particular, brooding,probably about a life gone by, and wondering what could have been had certain things not unfolded the way they did. One can’t figure out what unless he speaks, but he doesn’t.
There is an untold story behind each destitute or the homeless. The stories may vary from one to another, but the common line remains more or less the same – inability of their families to look after them for whatever reasons. The reasons include discordant intra-familial relationships, grown-up children leaving aged parents unattended to seek their own respective futures, assumed mental imbalance and expressed helplessness to look after the elders, or loss of entire family, property and fortunes, rendering them utterly helpless, to find themselves on the streets.
Life is certainly cruel, if we can’t help it. That ‘inability’ spells doom for those who, for survival, end up on street corners to be easily passed off as ‘beggars’,which they are not. Destitution cannot be passed off as faults of the family involved. It becomes a social failure. We live in a community of residents, friends and relatives, and when problems arise, some symptoms are noticeable, and yet ignored for “not wanting to interfere”. But the problems fester, with unfortunate and cruel results. It’s a very urban problem!
Frederick Douglass, an American social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman, who became one of the most important leader of the movement for African-American civil rights in the 19th century, states: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
There is more to destitution than meets the eye. Each case of destitution is a story in itself – a story of utmost failure. John Dalberg-Acton, a 19th century English historian, politician, and writer, sums it up: “When a rich man becomes poor, it is a misfortune, it is not a moral evil. (But) When a poor man becomes destitute, it is a moral evil, teeming with consequences and injurious to society and morality.”
(The writers’ views are their own)