The United Nations Commission on Human Rights reports that Mexico-City has around 30,000 people living in the streets; a disturbing 50% are children. Poverty, family breakdown and physical abuse are the main reasons so many children in my country do not have a roof over their heads. Many children prefer to run away from their homes for fear that arguments between adults will become violent.
But how do Indian people end up on the streets? Men, women and children can be found sleeping along sidewalks, under flyovers, near transport stations and next to railway tracks all over India. But depending on the region, population and challenges differ. In minor cities, homeless are single, male transient migrants in search for economic opportunities who keep close ties with their rural home base and eventually either find a place to live there or return to their native villages.
In India’s financial capital however, the situation seems to be different: in Mumbai a large portion of homeless are families who have lived on the streets their entire lives, even for multiple generations. According to a study conducted in 2011 by the Bombay Urban Industrial League for Development, 96% of Mumbai’s homeless families have lived on the streets for more than 5 years, while 58% have been homeless for more than 20 years. There are families who have lived on the streets for 40-50 years at a stretch. They no longer have connections with their villages and consider Mumbai their home.
Without Walls an exhibition put together by Carlin Carr, an urban researcher of Megapolis, provided a peek into the overlooked lives of Mumbai’s homeless, specifically women. The purpose was raise more awareness about the multiple issues this vulnerable population is confronted to.
This project was co-curated by Studio X Mumbai with contributions from NGO Pehchan an organisation that fights for the rights of the homeless population and BIND, a photography collective. They used multimedia, photography and mapping to interrogate three key aspects of homelessness: lived experiences of Mumbai’s women; livelihoods and the dignity of labour; and the physical space and its relationship to the infrastructure of the city.
The latter has been always an issue. A 2010 Supreme Court judgement makes it mandatory for civic authorities to build shelters for the urban homeless, but Mumbai has virtually no shelters except for a handful intended for street children. The organisers hope to spark interest, empathy and monetary support and for a pressing unmet need: family shelters.
Homelessness is a neglected issue. People in the city face abysmal conditions with a scarcity of shelters, and affordable housing options,” says Carr. “A vicious cycle of rising prices, illiteracy and low-level employment exacerbates Mumbai’s unique situation of inter-generational homelessness. We are raising funds by selling postcards and doll key chains by them at the exhibitions to build them the city’s first family shelter.
I hope the exhibition had at least helped the audience gain insight into the lives of the homeless families and understand their world, their work and the overwhelming challenges they face in gaining more equitable access to land, shelter and services.
Support Mumbai’s Homeless Families https://www.ketto.org/mumbaihomeless
Without Walls: An exhibition on Mumbai’s homeless http://www.mid-day.com/articles/without-walls-an-exhibition-on-mumbais-homeless/17159193