This article is written by Shikha Pokhriyal, from the School of Law, Delhi Metropolitan Education, GGSIPU. This article talks about the situation of homelessness in our country and analyzes how the pandemic of coronavirus has worsened this situation.
Homelessness is a condition where an individual lacks to afford a permanent house and travel from one place to another to put a roof over their head. It is caused due to several reasons but the most common reason is lack of employment and money or poverty. A person with no job does not have an option but to stay on the streets and roads. When there was no pandemic there were already a lot of people who were living on the streets but they were trying to earn and move forward, but now with the coronavirus pandemic going on the number of people without a roof over their head has drastically increased.
The people who were employed earlier and were getting wages were able to move to a place which they can call their home but now with the pandemic going on and no jobs no work, these people who had homes are going back to the streets. This situation sometimes seems so helpless.
Homelessness: A defeat for Article 21
A year has passed since the nationwide lockdown was announced to curb the spread of coronavirus, shutting down all the work and forcing down the people to sit at home. The people who used to work as daily wage laborers or are from low-income families with no permanent jobs or security, this lockdown created a lot more problems for them. Without employment, there is no income, food, or a place to live. In the year 2020 when the lockdown was first announced, we saw huge numbers of migrant labourers going back to their native places. Since there were no other options for transportation, these people were forced to walk on the streets throughout the summer.
They were walking back with their families consisting of little children, low-income, old people, and women. With no food and no water, they covered hundreds of miles. Though the government announced many schemes for free food and many things, in the huge number of homeless people many people are always left. The number is so huge that no one can ever imagine. The basic amenities like food and shelter are not being fulfilled. Coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on every individual whether being rich, poor, or the common man. Businesses are in losses, there is a shortage of jobs and the people who were employed lost their jobs due to no work. This situation made affording basic amenities like food and the house so difficult. The increased number of people who are on roods with their families is heartbreaking. In search of food and the house, they are wandering here and there, and with the covid restrictions, these problems become huge.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of his life or his liberty. This section guarantees a right to shelter as a fundamental right. In the case of Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, considering Article 21 the court said that it provides a person the right to live and this includes right to livelihood and right to personal liberty. The court stated right to livelihood should be considered as the right to livelihood as no person can live without the means of livelihood and this would be considered as depriving the person’s right to live. Every citizen of India has the right to live under a roof.
In the judgment of Rajesh Yadav v. State Of U.P. 2020, the court held that the right to shelter is a basic fundamental right that includes living in an adequate space and safe surroundings or environment. The state is obligated to promote the welfare of the people, to allocate housing sites to the people. It is the duty of the State under Article 38 and Article 39 to help the people living on the streets by providing them with sufficient resources so that they can live their lives in a meaningful way. Despite this, the reality is that many people are sleeping on the roads with no food or blanket. The steps taken by the government are still not able to reach these thousands of people living on the roads in the hope of food or shelter. The number of homeless people is so large that it becomes a difficult task to provide relief to every individual while following all the coronavirus protocols. Even after filing several petitions in the court to provide shelter relief to these migrant laborers or the homeless people, Article 21 seems not working. These homeless people are not even aware of the fact that there is a fundamental right to a home, which exists in our country because no one is there to teach them.
Mere violation of this article, gives rise to a violation of many other articles which act as fundamental rights like the right to education, right to earn a livelihood, right to food, right to health, right to treat women with respect and decency, the list of rights seems to be a long one. But these people cannot go to court, going to court fighting against all this does not even seem an option for them right now. All these homeless people need is food, and a roof over their children’s heads so they can sleep. But right now this seems like a luxury.
The current pandemic and the rise in homelessness
To tackle the situation of coronavirus there are instructions to maintain social distance, wearing masks, and isolating someone who is sick. These are the basic guidelines that are supposed to be followed by everyone. But can we expect these guidelines to be followed by the people who do not have food and shelter? They do not even have room to stay. How can we expect them to follow the guidelines of being isolated?
In the pandemic time, the number of people who are forced to be in the streets drastically keeps on increasing. With all the work shut, they have no money to pay rent and because of this, the landlord is asking these people to move out. Last year when the nationwide lockdown was announced, thousands of people were seen walking to go to their native place. After a month, some means of transportation were provided to these people to reach their native place. Thousands of people gathered at one place to board a bus, violating the most important practice of social distancing can never be ignored.
An individual having low immunity or suffering from any disease falls in the high-risk groups and is considered as most vulnerable to having coronavirus. These homeless people who are not having enough food to eat, no roof over their heads, and exposed to outside without masks are also in the high-risk group to have the disease. Because of all these reasons homeless people are also considered carriers to give the disease to a healthy person. Therefore, people fear to call them over for any work. For example, a maid doing all household chores cannot go to her work because people are scared considering their poor standard of living to call them over. The same goes for the gardener or the driver. With no money in their hands, they cannot even get basic medical assistance if they catch the virus. These homeless people have already suffered a lot in the initial phase of lockdown in 2020, and now again when they were able to get little work starting to move on, another lockdown was imposed and they are back where they were, that is on the streets.
This pandemic has taken massive amounts of lives up till now, shortage of hospital beds and oxygen, seeing people dying outside the hospital on the roads was heartbreaking and it shook the whole nation. This time even the man with all the resources was not able to save lives because of the shortage of everything; hospital beds, oxygen, and medicines. The thought of these homeless people suffering from coronavirus having no money and awareness about how to deal with this situation makes everything worse. Apart from the coronavirus, these groups of people are even vulnerable to many other diseases which can be life-threatening. The majority of children and the women of these homeless groups are malnourished. With the overburdened hospitals, they do not have a place to go to get mere medical treatment. The women who are pregnant or are having any other severe diseases are in a very high-risk group. Pandemic has taken a very harsh toll on every human being but the people who do not even have a home are the worst hit.
The role of government and administrative agencies in preventing homelessness
The government and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working to help these homeless people. Many new ordinances and laws are being established to save the lives of the people living on the roads. The Supreme Court has also appreciated the work done by non-governmental organizations. They have taken care of these homeless people by giving them food, shelter, and educating them with basic protocols of coronavirus.
The government made some policies for helping these homeless poor people but they were not able to implement these policies properly and many people suffered due to this. In these difficult times non-governmental organizations coming forward encouraging and motivating other people to join them by donating anything whether be food or little money to help these people is appreciated.
Education of basic coronavirus appropriate behavior is necessary. These homeless people need this kind of assistance. Many states announced a free ration to the poor so that they do not have to travel from one place to another in search of food. States like Delhi are providing free ration to the families holding ration cards and for those who do not have a card, meals are prepared for them and are distributed. The central government announced a relief package of providing free food and other necessary things to help these poor homeless people.
The government is trying to help these people by providing them free ration for a few months and also by establishing some laws to help them, but in reality, only a few receive this help and the majority are left behind. Many villages and rural areas are where the situations are much worse, this situation is never covered by any source of media. In these kinds of areas, where there is no source of income, no shelter, and no medical assistance, the number of people getting sick due to coronavirus and dying of it can never be reported. Homeless people are suffering even before the pandemic but now the situations are worse than what we ever can imagine. Many non-governmental organizations are working to help poor homeless people by providing them with basic amenities. Now is the time to help the people around us by donating even a little bit of clothes, food, or in any way possible and be there for each other.
The first and the second lockdown has left thousands of people with no job and no home. A study was conducted by the United States based Pew research center which stated that after the first lockdown the poverty in India doubled the number that was before the lockdown. The coronavirus pandemic has interrupted all the activities and has affected all the fields of work. It has taken a toll on every class of people be it the poor or rich or common man. It has pushed a common man on the verge of poverty. And the poor people are left with no work at all and no food. We are afraid to leave our houses because what if we bring a virus back with us? These homeless people, on the other hand, are much more terrified of dying on the side of the road due to starvation or some natural catastrophes.
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