Category Archives: Homeless

‘Let’s wait for court judgement before commenting on JNU row’

By bappaditya paul

NOTWITHSTANDING the debate over police crackdown at JNU raging through the country, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi has said that he would rather wait for the court judgment on the issue before giving his opinion.

“I am not an expert on this and am not aware of all the details. Many experts from both the political and apolitical spectrums are there to speak on the issue,” Satyarthi said when asked about his take on the nationalist versus anti-national debate that has cropped up centring the JNU episode. Satyarthi was interacting with media persons at Kolkata Press Club this afternoon.

Next, asked specifically about his views on the arrest of JNU Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, the Nobel laureate steered away from taking a stand. “The matter is already in court. Let us wait for the court judgement,” he said.

Satyarthi later qualified the response saying that he had returned from Latin America only three days ago and could gather little insights to form an opinion on the JNU issue. “In fact, I spoke to a friend to learn the details.”  

The 62-year rights activist was conferred the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his near four decade fight against child labour and child slavery.

Interestingly, the very next of the JNUSU president’s arrest on 12 February over alleged “anti-national” slogans, another Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, had remarked in Delhi that India as a nation had become too tolerant of intolerance. Sen made the comment while delivering a lecture about the right to dissent.

Satyarthi today said that according to him, there were three serious dangers to society and those were ~ apathy, fear, and intolerance. “But these are global phenomenon and not peculiar to India,” he said.

The foundation named after Satyarthi would launch a “100 million for 100 million campaign” later this year to ustilise youths across the globe to reach out to their deprived counter parts. “I see frustration, violence, and intolerance increasing among the young people. On the other hand, they are full of enthusiasm but their strengths are not being harnessed. To change this, I am planning the biggest campaign in human history wherein 100 million empowered youths would reach out to 100 million of their counterparts who are not empowered,” the Nobel laureate said.

The campaign would run both online and offline over the social and traditional media. Satyarthi has plans to rope in the universities in India to further the campaign.

Referring to the upcoming Union Budget, the Nobel laureate demanded an increase in allocation of funds for programmes related to children.

“In India, over 41 per cent of the population is below 18 years. But the budget spending on children education and healthcare combined is less than 4 per cent. If India wants to do justice to her children, the government must have to spend more on children,” Satyarthi said.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This report first appeared in NEWSMEN on 20 February 2016.)


Children of a lesser goddess

Pujas bring sleepless nights for pavement dwellers

By bappaditya paul

Sixty-three years of democracy could not ensure them a roof and now, the Durga Puja has snatched from them the pavement as well!

This is the story of Kolkata’s 70,000-odd destitutes. As the city wakes up to nightlong merrymaking and pandal hopping, the pavement dwellers lose their sleep and treasured pavement spots, thanks to the beautification drive for the Pujas, which requires them to be evicted to facilitate the pandal hoppers a smooth walk.

These homeless people, who roam the city during the day or take up odd-jobs, sleep on the footpaths, sidewalks of bridges or on the veranda of big buildings across the city.

“There are two ways in which these people are evicted. In areas such as BK Pal Avenue, Joramandir etc, the Puja organisers amicably remove the pavement-dwellers by offering them clothes, food and other amenities. But in places such as Tala Park, Baghbazar, Gariahat, Rashbehari, they are evicted forcefully in association with the police and the local councilors,” said Mr Surajit Neogi of the ActionAid India, which is working for the homeless of Kolkata since 2003.

Hamidur Seikh, a middle-aged handicap who survives on alms and spends nights on the sidewalk of Bijan Setu at Gariahat, verified the charge.

Hamidur, originally hails from Samudragarh in Burdwan and came to Kolkata last year.

“Barricades have been put up on both sides of the bridge and policemen have asked us to stay off the pavements till Kali Puja,” he said. Hamidur has now moved to the minority-dominated Chandni Chowk “as there are less number of Pujas here”.

As per an ActionAid study, as of June 2010, there are about 1, 10,000 homeless in Kolkata, of which a majority 70,000 live on the pavements.

Even according to the 2001 Census, the number of Kolkata’s homeless is 67,676 ~ a shocking number given that there are only three state-run vagrants’ home within the city limits, which boast a total capacity of sheltering 600 destitutes.

“A section of the pavement-dwellers also move to the periphery of the city during the festivals, where there are fewer Pujas and they are allowed to sleep on the pavements,” Mr Neogi added.

But those who stick to the areas they are used to, do so knowing the trouble they would have to face.

“I will not move from this area, for, if I leave I may not get the same place to sleep when I return. Thus, what some of us do every year is that on the Puja days we roam about till dawn and then come back to our pavements when the revelers go back home. We sleep till 9 or 10 a.m. and leave again,” said Mr Nitai Mondal, who works at a roadside food stall and sleeps on the veranda of a commercial building at Ballygung.

(The author is a senior journalist with The Statesman, India. This piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 15 October 2010)