Recently, I was reading an OHCHR document on The Right to Adequate Housing and this one sentence in the document took me by surprise. You would think that in India, each citizen who reaches the age of 18 has a right to vote, but I fear even a right as fundamental as this, comes with ‘Terms and Conditions’, and in this case, it is the homeless people who are denied this right. Take a look at this one sentence: “Without proof of residency, homeless persons may not be able to vote”
Here is the hardy-har-har of it all – States have a duty to provide shelter for all the citizens of the country, directly or indirectly, and in cases of very marginalised or the extremely downtrodden sections of the society, the state is required to provide a safe and secure shelter directly, which literally means they should provide these people with a physical house, with all the basic requirements already built/installed, like sanitation facilities, electric connections, water connections, etc. Yet, our country denies its citizens the “chance” to cast their votes if they cannot provide their proof of residence. And what does the government have to say? – “Oh, all Indians are given a chance to vote, it is their right to vote”
However, on April 4, 2018, the Democratic Ambassador for All India Rural Integrity (DAARI), requested the Election Commission to enrol beggars across the state as voters. Ravi Bangera, the convenor of DAARI, stated that 5% of the population in Delhi constituted homeless people and beggars, and he wrote to the Chief Electoral Officer that these people should be part of this process because they too are Indian citizens. Soon after, the Election Commission considered this, and for the first time, around 10,000 or so homeless people were given an opportunity to vote by using the places they sleep as the proof of residence, like some bridge or some street; the voter IDs were given personally to each of them.
This is perhaps one single incident in our country. No other state has gone this far for the homeless and even if the Election Commission considered this because of the cognizance of some citizens, the condition of these people is still very pathetic and horrid. The State Governments or the Union Government still don’t provide them with shelter, but oh, if there is a bullet train that they need to build, let’s bulldoze the lives out of these people, they don’t have homes anyway now, do they? And even if they, by God’s grace, provide the homeless and the slum dwellers with a shelter, there is no guarantee that they will have proper facilities. In most cases, the infrastructure quality itself isn’t great, and yet, so many good deeds by the governments, much wow.
Coming back to the title, are the homeless really voiceless and choiceless in our country? What do you think? I personally believe that until there are some major (and I mean like when you cry and curse after one of your favourite movie’s plot twists) reforms in the country this situation will persist and get worse, and in the end, it will become another agenda for political parties to toss around and play musical chairs with, until in the end, one of them wins the competition, after which, the toy is thrown away because they already got a prize.
Vidhathri Mysore is a law student at CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore. She takes a keen interest in matters pertaining to human rights, animal welfare, political sciences and the field of technology. Since a young girl, she has always been good at analyzing various situations, writing articles and debating. As an aspiring lawyer, she wants to grow up to be part of a global community that takes efforts to help people all across the world and also works to reinstate our nature and it’s ecosystem. Her forte is using different forms of art to express her thoughts and opinions, hoping to make a small difference in the way society thinks, to make them more open-minded and aware of all the various changes that take place in our community.