Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chennai - Some thoughts on Urban Homelessness

Urbanisation in two ways has caused the homelessness in Chennai. One is the direct attraction in had in the initial period, which again has drawn thousands of rural mass into the city in search of new economic opportunities. Many of the rural areas around Chennai having experienced more dry years and failed agriculture in those days made these people to refuge into the growing industrialisation of the city. This has indeed provided them with numerous direct and indirect employment opportunities, which were then enough to secure their food and not a place to reside in. They have settled down their lives in the streets of the city and gradually adopted into homelessness.

Besides this direct attraction, it is believed that the infrastructural development of then growing urbanisation, such as, four lane roads, electric trains and recent fly-overs have caused more and more indirect evictions which left the native people to be homeless in their own places. It is important here to note that Chennai is a cluster of ‘once upon a time’ villages, which are merged into the development of a metropolitan city and lost their identities as individual villages. Places like Mayilapoor, Thiruvanmiyur and Thiruvallikkeni having very old temples are still evident for once existed villages. As no one notices a small cloud, which gets melted amidst the colourful evening sky, the history of urbanisation has no traces of these indirect evictions happened during the course. Apart form few old people none of the homeless either know that some of them are the natives of the same place and once had their houses there.

There are also few non governmental initiatives that have taken place for the well being of the homeless people and they are all proved to be inconsistent due to the non-availability of funds and change in staff structure, etc. But these efforts in a way have managed to evolve a kind of co-operative spirit among the homeless people by forming them into associations and self help groups. Many of the homeless women are now into the SHG route and have their own little savings. The associations among the homeless people have facilitated the emergence of the local leaders, who are now half trained to fight for the rights of their fellow homeless people. They are half-trained in the sense; they are suddenly left alone by the sudden withdrawals of the NGOs involved in training them.

Certain non governmental initiatives are now trying to adopt a right based approach by restricting themselves only to the provision of legal support. Here again these organizations are so irregular in performing their task and also not very much convincing of their principle, which has now made the homeless people not to depend very much upon the voluntary sector. But there are still few homeless people who work for these NGOs as community mobilisers and secure some minimum remuneration for their work. Though these initiatives are not being proved as fruitful to the whole homeless community, the general feel is that it is good as at least few among them are able to make some money out of it.

Still, the expectations upon the Government support is very much high and has been viewed as the long term solutions for their sufferings.

Rephrasing the forgotten history may not help the homeless people to improve their present situation, but it still helps us to realise the humane face that the urbanising phase should have. Any policy level decision to improve the urbanite character of the city should also consider the lives of the poor as well as dependent population living in. This ethical consideration is getting its importance in this juncture as the State Government is now decided to implement the Chennai metro rail project (as it is in Delhi) by pouring in some thousands of crores of rupees. Central Government and few foreign agencies have also agreed to support this new metro project in Chennai. Now the concern is that the project should not only leave any poor people homeless, but also should not disturb the lives of the people who are already homeless in the city. Such an indirect eviction is not a righteous history which can be repeated again.

1 comment:

Piera said...

Good for people to know.