At 3.2 Degrees, It's a Battle of Survival For The Homeless in Cold Delhi Winters

'It's heart-wrenching to see the homeless struggle to survive Delhi's chilly winter.'

My Report
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As the faint light of the morning escaped from the window panel and spoke to my eye, nothing was different from yesterday except the cold chill which I could sense to my bones.

But it was different on this Monday morning, it was not only cold but the coldest morning Delhi had seen in this season so far. As I stepped out early that morning for work, I came across several smouldering fires that had given heat to those who surrounded it last night.


Coldest Day Of 2021

On 20 December, with minimum temperatures plummeting to 3.2°C, I still could find many around the Kalkaji flyover sleeping under the sky with nothing but dew to cover their thin, shoddy blankets from top. While the sun shone brightly during the day to provide some respite, the night brought back the harsh cold winds.

I interacted with a few of them to understand their plight.

Pooja with her infant on the street of Delhi's Kalkaji

Photo Credit: Soumya Verma

A woman with her half-naked 6-month-old baby said, "He keeps getting wet from time to time." She is now pregnant with her second-child and unvaccinated. She came to Delhi about 5-6 years ago from her village near Ajmer, Rajasthan.

As she headed to the triangular footpath where her family of 15 people slept, she gets on with making dinner with whatever ration that is available. Most members of the family earn through rag picking or begging and survive on Rs 5,000-6,000 a month that they make collectively.

"It really gets cold in the night. The dew makes everything wet so it feels all the more cold," she told me as she asked if I could arrange for any blankets.

There is no home for her back in the village where she could go as the little land that her family had was sold and it looks like she is destined to spend her remaining life on the streets unless serious interventions on the part of the government are made.

Prior to the beautification, under the flyover in Kalkaji, several families and groups lived there. Now Mary and her husband, who guard the newly beautified spots at a meagre sum of Rs 600 per month, prevent anyone from sleeping under there.

The government, on the other hand, has ramped up shelter homes, or Rain Basera, and temporary night shelters around the city. Yet, the problem of homelessness continues to stay on in Delhi.

Homeless people sleeping on the footpath.

Photo Credit: Soumya Verma


Bhagwat, a man in his mid 40s, was hit by an auto driver 4 months back while commuting to work. Circling around Delhi's Safdarjung for treatment and unable to get so due to lack of money, he is now bracing himself for the winter with a broken leg.

Bhagwat preparing his bed on the pavement beside triangular park in Kalkaji.

Photo Credit: Soumya Verma

"It pains like hell on cold nights," Bhagwat said. He doesn't want a vaccine as he thinks he is about to die. One can see how he is shrouding his pain in humour while talking to him.

"My family makes bidis back home in Bengal and manages, I have nothing to contribute for but a broken leg," he said. What about the time before the accident?

Bhagwat said, "The pandemic has put a stop to normal inflow of earnings."

"I have not eaten anything the whole day as I haven't earned anything today at the mandir," he explained as he took cigarettes from a friend to calm his hungry stomach.

Now when things were coming back to normal he is unable to work. The Omicron question has no response from Bhagwat because there is really no glimmer of hope with another impending lockdown.

If you are wondering why these people don't go to the Rain Baseras or Shelter Homes made by the Delhi government, they say there isn't enough space to accommodate everyone living on the streets.


Why Rain Basera Is Not An Option?

The week prior to this, I had visited a Rain Basera of Sarai Kale Khan in Delhi, which houses one of the permanent shelters for 1,000 people and several temporary tents in nearby areas as well.

The Delhi government has ensured beds, blankets, and a decent quality of food. Hygiene, however, is an issue.

I met Laxmi and Kusum at the Rain Basera. They are thankful that they are under a shelter in the chilling weather, but yes, they worry about trying to make their ends meet.

Her husband works as a labourer and when they are in desperate need for money, she too goes for begging or ragpicking.

Laxmi and Kusum, residents of Delhi's Sarai Kale Khan Shelter Home

Photo Credit: Soumya Verma

Laxmi wants to learn a skill so that her family can be financially stable and she could then educate her children but she lacks in support of any kind. “Many a times, over the years, some NGOs and different organisations have come and noted our names telling us that they will train and help us develop a skill, but nothing materialised ever," she explained.

For them both, these shelter homes are a respite from the cold but they expect the government to come up with a permanent solution by giving them a home.

We spent our lives like this, how will our children spend theirs? We hope that the government gives us a house, then we will be able to educate our children and move forward in our lives.

I would definitely be arranging for blankets for them to help survive the winter. But that won't pull them out of this dire situation. We need to teach them a skillset and employ them so that they can live a dignified life.


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Topics:  Delhi weather   Delhi cold   Delhi Winter 

Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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