NEW DELHI: Even as a year has passed since a nation-wide lockdown was imposed to contain the coronavirus spread, people who went homeless are yet to find affordable housing in the national capital.
So goes the story of Nargis, 18, who was among those who were forced to leave her room in Sarai Kale Khan which she along with her husband had rented for a monthly rent of Rs 3,500, following the sudden announcement of lockdown in 2020.
“My husband was a rickshaw-puller. After lockdown, we could not afford rent. The owner asked us to vacate the premises. Soon, we were homeless. We were living in a park, then a school where the police took us, and now in a park again,” said Nargis holding her eight-month-old daughter Alisha in her arms.
Now, Nargis’s home is Barakhamba Park in Nizamuddin area where she gave birth to her daughter. Similar is the story of her friends Shabana (23), Ishrat (20). They even gave birth amid the lockdown in Barakhamba park after being turned away by multiple hospitals.
“My husband cleans toilets in Maharani Bagh. We have a newborn now. And there is barely any income. We do not know when we can have a home again,” said Ishrat. Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), pointed out the need for a strong human rights approach to resolve the current crisis.
“India’s harsh Covid-induced lockdown followed by the severe economic crisis has resulted in deep impoverishment and extensive livelihood and housing loss, with women bearing the worst brunt. Despite the grave public health emergency, homelessness has been exacerbated by state-led home demolitions and evictions due to people’s inability to pay rent.
To resolve the multiple crises, a strong human rights approach is required in the recovery process,” said Chaudhry. Nargis, Shabana and Ishrat try to find hope in Apsana (19) has managed to rent a room in Sarai Kale Khan recently. “It’s been a month since we managed to rent a room. How do we stay here without any privacy? Is it safe for women to bring up kids here? But people have no income.
I do not know how long it is before we are again homeless as I earn a meagre amount guarding cars in a dargah’s parking lot,” said Apsana. Data shows India has more than 1.7 million homeless residents. The national capital alone has 150,000-200,000 homeless, according to HLRN. The United Nations (UN), meanwhile, has urged governments to take measures to secure housing right for all.