Saturday, September 22, 2007

Causes behind Homelessness in Madurai...

It is strange and also interesting to look at the life as a series of cause and effects. By stating that we do not intend to discuss about the whole lot of ‘Karma’ theory here. But we want to put the homelessness at the ‘effect-end’ as in Madurai people are homeless not because they were in that state of life. It is this presumption demands us to look beyond and trace out the causes, which made these people to lead a homeless life. There are surely certain situations/incidents happened behind the scenes. We can also assure that most of those situations would have been unavoidable by the people who are homeless now. It is the unavoidable causes lead to undesirable effects.

When we say ‘unavoidable’, it is death which comes first in our mind (It is different matter whether death can be said to be a cause or it is an effect? Still, we refer ‘death’ as a cause for the interpreting comport). Most of the life stories collected in Madurai state the ‘death’ of a dear one or dear ones as the important milestone from which their journey towards homelessness has started. The death of a husband or wife, by leaving the other alone in the midst of non-caring children, relatives and society, naturally leads the widowed to live in an unbearable loneliness. If they (the lonely ones) are not strong enough, both emotionally and economically, the non-caring and also exploitative people around drive them simply into the life of homeless. It is the same case when the parents of a child die at his/her earlier age where the relatives ill-treat him/her or deny taking care of his livelihood. Even if the ‘orphan’ child is left with the assets of his/her parents, it never assures him/her a better livelihood rather the exploitative relatives snatch it off by leaving the child to be homeless.

Next to the death, it is the ‘loss’ of something becomes unavoidable in many instances. In our exploration for the causes for homelessness, we are also able to trace out certain losses in the life stories of people who are pushed to be homeless. Loss of health, job, property, etc. When a person suffers from incurable illness, it marks the loss of his/her health and thereby the loss of physical capital. In the Indian context being employed is mostly dependent upon one’s own physical capital. An incurable illness or any sustained injury affects the person’s physical capital severely which automatically reflects in his/her loss of employment. A woman becoming unemployed would not be a serious issue in the Indian family life. But when the same is happening with a man it creates serious implications in the family. He is supposed to be the primary breadwinner and the principal contributor on its economic front. When it gets disturbed, the non-caring and also economically vulnerable family of him has no other way except ill-treating which would naturally perusable him to walk-out (!) of the house.

Spending for the treatment of any incurable illness and selling out the properties for getting the children (especially girls) married are certain other factors seen in the life stories as the causes for the loss of house and other properties, which naturally leaves the people with a single option of being homeless.

When we talk about these unavoidable situations/causes, which lead the people to be homeless, we mean that they were unavoidable only at the personal level of the homeless and not at the societal level. There is a probable past for this present homeless live. All these situational causes could have been avoided if the society or at least the family would have shown their human face to these lonely people. This is well-reflected in the responses of the homeless people we met with as more than half of them have stated different family related problems, such as, abandonment by family, absence of family, family abuse, etc., as the causes for their homelessness. Also the public of ‘Madurai’ is of the same opinion as most of them emphasized more on the failures from the part of the family as the major reason for homelessness.

There are also certain avoidable causes (from the part of homeless people) which could be sensed from the life stories. Drug addiction, extra-marital relationships, love affairs and even the wish to be a “Sannyasi’ (saint) are some of them.

For a certain group of homeless people in Madurai, being homeless and nomadic are their ways of life as they are all ‘perform-beggars’. Interestingly they all have houses in their villages, which obviously serve as their retreat homes.

Most interestingly, the ‘City of Madurai’ itself is being viewed as one among the factors for homelessness. Because, most of the homeless as well as non-homeless people were referring to the hospitable nature of Madurai, which never harasses the homeless people and never horrifies the homeless life. They also referred to the provision of free food through different means as one of the factor why they do not want to leave Madurai and return to their villages/homes.

Encroachment of their living places by Government and private parties could be seen as the sole administrative failure, which again turned out to be a cause for the homelessness of a very small portion of homeless population in Madurai.

We can conclude with the understanding that in Madurai, homelessness is obviously not the effect of urbanization of the city (as it is yet to develop an urbanite character). The causes for Madurai’s homelessness are mostly due to the failures of families and societies in and around the city, which are otherwise expected to have a humane nature.

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