Great leap forward: Finally, Delhi's homeless find identity ahead of Assembly elections
New Delhi: For 60-year-old Ratan Lal, who has been living at a night shelter in Old Delhi since 2003, it was a moment of lifetime. Finally, he has found existence as the government accepted the homeless people in the national capital as citizens of this country.
After getting his first Voter-ID card a week ago, a beaming Lal, who had come here in 1973 in search of work, says, "I will surely cast my vote for the first time in the upcoming elections."
India claims to be the largest democracy with the bulkiest constitution. Indian elections and pre-election predictions are considered to be one of the biggest political events in the world. Yet, for those who are on the streets struggling every moment for their survival in the national capital, there is no charm for these events elections simply because they do not count.
Delhi has an estimated number of 1,50,000 homeless people. All this happens when the Constitution of India in Article 326 guarantees identity for every citizen in the country.
"Every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than 18 years of age on such date as may be fixed in that behalf by or under any law made by the appropriate legislature and is not otherwise disqualified under this constitution or any law made by the appropriate legislature on the ground of non-violence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practice shall be entitled to be registered as a voter at any such election," says the Article 326 of the Constitution.
In a joint effort of the Election Commission of Delhi and Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), an NGO working for empowerment of homeless in Delhi, around 7,500 homeless people have so far been enrolled as voters.
Interestingly, the residential address of the homeless persons is the location of their respective night shelters.
"With Chief Election Commission advocating 'inclusion' as its theme this year, a conscious decision was taken to enrol homeless persons who have remained outside the ambit of State services for several years. Before this initiative, only 62 homeless persons were present on the Delhi voter list," Delhi Chief Electoral Officer Vijay Dev told Daily Bhaskar.
AAA Co-Director Sanjay Kumar said, "The homeless have so far been a faceless and identity less people in the city who if die go as 'unidentified body'. The Voter-ID cards that the homeless persons have got will help them establish their identification credentials and provide a gateway to other government services."
Talking about their crusade to give the homeless people, who constitute around one percent of the total population of Delhi, Kumar said, "We approached the Election Commission in 2003 and requested them accept homeless persons as the citizen of this country by issuing them Voter-ID cards."
"The EC properly accepted our request and issued 1,600 Voter-ID card that year. So far, 7,500 homeless people have been issued the ID card," said Kumar.
He said his NGO recommended only those homeless persons for Voter-ID cards who have been coming for long to sleep at its permanent shelters across Delhi and whose credentials its volunteers could vouch for.
At one of the AAA's permanent shelters at Fatehpuri in Old Delhi, Navnit Singh, a volunteer of AAA, confirmed that around 375 Voter-ID cards have been issued a couple of days ago at this shelter, where 500 homeless people sleep in day and night shifts.
Unhappy with the government's attitude to "ignore the most deprived people of the country", Surendra Mohan Gautam, a retired Army man who has left his family and home to serve homeless, asks, "Why only a few hundred people from his night shelter were enrolled when over 700 forms had been submitted to the booth-level officers who had come twice at the high-density shelter home."
Delhi has an estimated number of 1,50,000 homeless people.