Thursday, 3 June 2010

Heartless cities

I was reading about the report of Smita Jacob and Asghar Sharif about the homeless persons dying everyday in the streets of Delhi and their conclusion that up to 10 homeless persons die every day and that most of them could be starvation deaths among men of working age. I am a little sceptical about these conclusions, even though I do believe that our cities can be terribly heartless places for the poor.

I remember reading about Delhi Government's decision to "send back" the beggars in Delhi to their original places to prepare for the Commonwealth Games. And I was trying to think, in what way this was different from the witch hunt against Bihari bhaiyyas living in Mumbai by the goons of Nav Nirman Sena? Beggars are not persons who have come to earn their living? Isn't Delhi their capital too and don't they have the constitutional right of all Indians to live where they wish? People who were indignant about Mumbai antics of the Thakre family and their followers, didn't seem much bothered by Delhi Government's decision about the beggars.

I am definately not looking at beggars from rose-tinted glasses. However, I do believe that if they are part of an organised racket, those who earn most from it must be respectable citizens who can afford to move around in big cars and who definitely do not need to be afraid of being sent away from Delhi. That racket must be paying hefty fees to the whole series of paymasters, starting from the police to the politicians.

No, my scepticism to the conclusions of Jacob-Asghar report comes from other considerations. I don't think that if people are dying of hunger, the majority of it them will be working age men. It does not seem logical. I think that the city does offer opportunities for working age men to find some work, at least enough for eating, and if homeless persons in Delhi are dying, I would expect them to be mainly elderly persons, women, children or sick persons.

I think that the Supreme Court and we all need more answers and they should not be too difficult to get. Delhi has four medical colleges. Ask them to organise autopsies for all unidentified dead persons in Delhi for ten days, as a pilot study. It is not so much extra work, just 2-3 extra autopsies per day each medical college for just ten days. Perhaps the medical colleges already have this information and somebody just needs to involve them in the discussions?

If there are an average of ten homeless persons dying every day, in ten days of pilot study, the medical colleges can do 90-110 autopsies and it will give us hard data about the ages, gender, other diseases and nutritional status of the people who are dying on the streets of Delhi. Then Supreme Court can take a better decision.
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