Hyderabad: He was probably a rag picker, or maybe not. The stench of the garbage was incredible but the homeless man was sleeping soundly. We were near LB Nagar (on) Sagar Road in Hyderabad.
Two other sewer pipes showed signs of being in use by homeless persons. They would return later at night. Clearly, the degradation of this experience would fail to give them a sense of being a part of human society.
Some kilometres away, a homeless rickshaw puller is sleeping on his rickshaw despite the discomfort. This is the only way he knows to prevent his rickshaw from being stolen.
Though they are unable to afford rent, the homeless are usually part of numerous economic activities in the city. Most of them need to live in the vicinity of their work site since they work long hours and earn little money. Take for instance head loaders, or those who work in the packing industry, or in marriage halls.
It is past midnight as we drive through Hyderabad - through markets, railway stations, bus stands and parks, where most of the homeless stay.
At the Paradise hotel area in Secunderabad, there seem to be homeless people everywhere, clinging to whatever space they get, outside shops, in corridors or on the steps.
This group of women with children was forced to migrate to Hyderabad from Nalgonda after successive years of drought. In the city they survive by begging.
Women and children are the most vulnerable on the streets.
At the Kachiguda railway station, the police drive out the homeless and do not allow them to sleep on the platforms at night. During the day however, the homeless blend into the crowd - a young boy picking up plastic bottles, a man in drunken stupor, and senior citizens searching for food.
This woman says she is from Maharashtra and has not eaten a proper meal for days. She appears to suffer from mental health problems.
Though the homeless live so publicly, they are the most invisible of all citizens. They have been excluded from most government schemes for people below the poverty line.
At the traffic island outside, we meet Kamala and Shankar from Warangal district. They say it was difficult to survive in their village.
To rent a room in the city would cost them about 2,000 rupees a month and Kamala earns only 1800 rupees.
"We are not certain where we will sleep each night," says Kamala.
Her husband who broke his leg is unable to do any work as a daily wage labour. "There are many drunks at night who abuse her. I am unable to fight them because of my injury. Her protection is the main problem. We don't sleep at one place. We keep changing places," Shankar, Kamala's husband says.
"Each one of us spends Rs 20 a day to have food, to use the toilet and have a bath - Rs 10 to have a bath, Rs 5 for washing clothes, Rs1 for using the toilet," Kamala told us.
Shankar says he is dependent on his wife. "She is earns Rs 60 a day. We spend Rs 40 a day on our daily needs. We are left with Rs 20. I can't even lift 50 kilos. Whether I live or die, I am dependent on her."
The homeless are seen by nearly all governments as illegal, as an unwanted burden on the city. They are seen as people who come in the way of the city's beautification.
But this is set to change. In February this year, the Supreme Court made states accountable for the food and shelter rights of the homeless people across the country. It directed all state governments and union territories to build shelters for the urban homeless with appropriate facilities. Directions were also issued to conduct a comprehensive survey to identify the homeless within 6 months.
"There were a number of homeless people in the Char Minar circle. We found about eight hundred people. There are a lot of market areas here like Usmaangunj, Begum Bazaar, and even Char Minar itself, so there are a lot of business establishments here. Most of the people work here. And they seem to be migrants who came Hyderabad for livelihood. You have numerous categories of people. There are women, sometime they are mentally ill. There are children. You can see one person sitting there. She appears to have some mental disability," says G.D. Priyadarshini, the additional commissioner charged with urban community development in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).
Andhra Pradesh is among the few states to go forward proactively in response to the court's orders.
The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation has conducted a rapid two-week survey which has come up with a figure of 4,600 homeless people. NGOs, however, say the survey is inadequate and the figures are close to 20,000
Under the Supreme Court's orders, there has to be one shelter for 100 homeless people for every one lakh population. Hyderabad with its 56 lakh population should have 56 shelters. The city, famous across the world as an IT, pharmaceuticals and entertainment hub, does not have a single government night shelter.
Near Kumar theatre at the Kachiguda railway station, there is a small night shelter run by an NGO. The LSN Foundation provides a safe, secure shelter and a hot cooked meal.
Many of the people using the shelter are migrants who came to the city for work and cannot manage because of the lack of low cost housing. With other family members dependent on them back home, they had to save some money.
Mohammad Subhan, an M.Com from Kammam district, works in a marriage hall
"In a marriage hall, we have to arrange functions. Arrange the tables, we have to keep the stage and everything, arrange the plates, and when the party comes we have to serve them," says Subhan.
"I came 6 months ago to this shelter. Before I came to this shelter, I stayed in a lodge for Rs 50 a day. After that I got to know that we were getting cheap accommodation here. So I came to this place. We are planning to stay for two more months here and then move to our own accommodation. We get work for only 7 months in a year. For 5 months we don't have work, because there are no marriages. If you earn Rs 300 and sleep on the road, you could get robbed. At this night shelter you can keep your money safely in lockers," Subhan tells us.
Venkatesh belongs to Vikarabad, Ranga Reddy district
"I get Rs 200 a day when I work as waiter. When I do stage work I get Rs 300. (Sutapa) Isn't this enough for you to get your own place?
(Venkatesh) It's not possible. My earnings are irregular.
(Sutapa) How long have you been working? (Venkatesh) For two years.
(Sutapa)How do you like it here? (Venkatesh) It feels like home.
(Sutapa) Do you feel the city should have more shelters like this one?
(Venkatesh)We need more shelters. So many people from my village are living on the streets here. Sometimes I get nearly 10 of them to come and stay here. There are so many homeless people in the city."
This is Hyderabad's only shelter for the homeless and it has room for 30 men. Users pay Rs 15 a night for dinner and night stay. They cannot afford housing. It is barely a drop in the ocean. Many more shelters are required for men, for women, for children, for families, for people with disabilities, for senior citizens.
At Chaderghat area, Gowriamma has just received a used sari and blouse. Other homeless women are complaining that they got salwar kameezes but not saris. When we ask her whether she likes her sari, Gowriamma is coy. She says she is past the age of caring about her appearance.
We are at a basic needs campaign by LSN Foundation which is organised every ten days. Homeless people get a shave, a haircut, soap and shampoo and the opportunity to bathe at a public toilet.
"Q: How do you earn a living? A: I do small jobs. I've no aim in life.
Q: Why did you come here? A: I was at the temple and I saw this camp. So I came here.
Q: Did you feel you gained something? A: I no longer think about profit and loss.
Q: What do you think about this camp? A: It's good."
"The government should provide us with a home and good education for our children. I am hard working. I will be able to manage other things," says Chandrakala, another homeless resident of Hyderabad.
A medical camp has also been set up and the homeless get a health check up, including HIV test and counselling.
"We check for STD and TB. Those who have symptoms of TB and STD could be suspected for HIV," says Dr Sridhar, the District Coordinator.
" In the beginning we faced lots of hurdles when we are mobilizing the homeless people because they never trusted us. We built that confidence slowly. The basic needs campaign helps us to build rapport with homeless people. Do counselling and publicise our night shelter," Manjula Pallipoyena, an Executive Trustee of the LSN Foundation tells us.
It's not just the cost. Many are denied these services because of the way they look and the condition they are in. Some are addicted to liquor or drugs. Even a public toilet could be out of bounds for them.
The stigma came home when the LSN Foundation opened their second shelter for homeless families and single women this year. Two months later, residents forced its closure.
Residents of Himmat Nagar told us -
Q: Do you know anything about the shelter?
A: No. I just got in yesterday
A: My mother doesn't want to say anything on camera.
A: These people would drink liquor and break bottles. How could we tolerate this? There are women and children in this colony.
A: They used to do drugs here. The smell would give us a headache. We warned them a couple of times, even beat them up. Finally, we asked them to leave.
A: They would eat and drink on the road and trouble passersby.
A: They looked strange and dangerous. We would hug our kids and keep them close to us.
According to NGOs, procuring a building for night shelters, whether government or private, is the biggest challenge.
The standing committee of the GHMC, a body of elected corporators, is against the use of community halls as night shelters. NGOs have persisted, paving the way for The Rainbow Homes, which provide schooling at government schools for street children.
At the Secunderabad Railway Station, we meet 28-year-old Geeta, a street-based sex worker who has a drinking problem. At 18 she ran away from her home in Coimbatore. Her story of sexual abuse and violence is common to homeless women. Her daughter Anita is living at a Rainbow home in Musheerabad, run by an NGO, Aman Biradari.
"My life is destroyed. I would have died long ago, but for my daughter.
I want my daughter to study well. I would be happy if she becomes a doctor. I don't want her to destroy her life," says Geeta.
Her daughter Anita tells us she is happy she got a chance to study. "I want to become a teacher."
Unlike Anita, this girl who was born on the streets had no escape. She tells us about her addiction to whitener, saying it is a consequence of her life.
Back at Anita's Rainbow home, it is time for a quick snack and play. There are many children like Anita who reclaimed their childhood after entering the home.
Ambika used to fight and always sit in mud and she used to put all the mud on her head and everywhere. She never used to be quiet and always mischievous and always fighting, never used to sit at one place, never used to listen to anybody, no stability at all. But now she studies and listens.
This residential school for street children was started over 2 years ago at the Mushirabad Government High School. Aman Biradri Activists found that many building like this one were laying unused hat built a new block. According to them there are many such unused government buildings across Hyderabad.
The city has 10 rainbow homes for girls and two for boys run by the Bal Mitra Network of 7 NGOs. Housed in government schools, they are funded by the government. The NGOs serve as caretakers.
"We felt strongly that these children are the responsibility of the Govt. They have to provide a shelter, food and good care, security, education.. and long term care too. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, it is only 10 to 12 months course. So then we struggled a lot and for one year we negotiated and found certain schools with vacant spaces. Children from the streets are always seen as criminals or thieves. So when we bring them into mainstream schools, they are automatically treated as students. It is not an orphan shelter, nothing of that sort. It is a residential school and our children become students of this school," says
K Anuradha, an Aman Biradari activist.
The government is now taking the rainbow home model for street children to other parts of the state. The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has started gearing up to address the needs of the homeless.
"Some people are mentally ill. We will take them to institutions specially meant for them. And if they are children, accommodate them residential schools. And for this we have written to all the departments of government and we are just waiting to set up the shelter and we given to appeal to the people of Hyderabad those who want to associate to giving something to shelter. We are not accepting anything in cash. So anything, any article can be given. We wanted their active corporation. We said if you want to participate and see what is going on they are welcome," says GD Priyadarshini, Additional Commissioner, GHMC.
The good news is that the GHMC plans to open 10 night shelters within a week. Activists say it could be the beginning of a new relationship between the government and its poorest citizens.