The following is the text of a news report 'Homeless demand 100 night
shelters', followed by the comment I sent The Hindu on it. After it is
another comment I sent The Hindu when it looked like it would report on
the Asian Social Forum in terms of 'Voices of Victims'. The two relate
through the voices-of-victims thread and through Mr Harsh Mander, who
coined the phrase, was on TV speaking for ASF and heads the part of Action
Aid that supports the AAA that started all this night shelter business,
suddenly very happening in mahapanchayats, court, MCD, etc. I know Hindu
won't carry this, like I knew it wouldn't carry the other one. All this is
just to keep saying that goings-on of pink NGOs that go for urban poor,
besides green NGOs that go for urban environment, while they go
un-challenged, do not go un-questioned by urban professionals not dazzled
by tiny shiny pieces that don't sit well in the big picture.

Gita Dewan Verma / Planner / 24.02.03


The Hindu 24.02.03
By Our Staff Reporter
NEW DELHI FEB. 23. The homeless in the Capital today demanded opening up
of at least 100 permanent night shelter homes. In a resolution passed at
the "Mahapanchayat'' organised by Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, a
non-governmental organisation -- which is fighting for the cause of the
shelter-less in Delhi - they also demanded ration cards and that they be
allowed to open bank accounts.
More than 600 homeless attended the "Mahapanchayat'' held at Zakir Hussain
College's "Aashray Griha''. This was the second such gathering of the
shelterless in Delhi. The first one was held in November 2001.
Recounting their sufferings at the hands of police and local civic body
officials, they demanded that they be issued a ration cards and be given
squatting permission on roads. "There should be a separate night shelter
for challenged people, women and senior citizens,'' the resolution
demanded. The resolution would be submitted by the NGO to the Delhi Chief
Minister, Sheila Dikshit, on behalf of the shelterless people, who number
about 1.5lakhs in the Capital. The event was also marked by various
outstanding cultural performances by the homeless themselves, students of
Delhi University's Law Faculty and children from Prayas, Jahangirpuri.
They also made an appeal that there should a 24-hour shelter home in the
It was also decided to hold "Beghar Panchayat'' every last Sunday of the
month, said the Abhiyan director, Indu Prakash Singh.


This is with reference to 'Homeless demand 100 night shelters' and also
'Lack of space for protests worry trade unions', The Hindu, 24.02.03

I'd like to ask with what authority did some mahapanchayat of 600 homeless
people arranged by one group of NGOs demand, purportedly on behalf of
dubiously estimated 1.5 lakh homeless persons in Delhi, that exactly 100
night shelters be built at public cost for the homeless. Ashray Adhikar
Abhiyan, really a group of NGOs, has no basis to claim either expertise or
insight into problems of the homeless. This is obvious from the fact that
it thinks the homeless do not need housing but a combination of night
shelters, ration cards, bank accounts and special classification in case
they are challenged, women or elderly (besides drug de-addiction, etc, not
mentioned in the news report but otherwise recommended by AAA). All of
these items fall more squarely on the list of agendas of NGOs than on the
list of needs of the homeless. Of course AAA will claim it has done a
survey of the homeless in Delhi, but this survey only counted about 53000
homeless persons and interviewed just about 600 arbitrarily selected ones.
Not only is the sample inadequate, the single question to assess priority
needs asked only about problems at sleeping place and could not possibly
have returned housing as a response. What it did return as the most
significant problem was police brutality, reiterated by the so-called
mahapanchayat. Oddly both Mr Amod Kanth's and Ms Kiran Bedi's NGOs were
part of this survey, but this confirmation by survey of a problem already
well-known has not led to any serious intervention with the culprits, only
with the victims, presumably because that is the way NGO funds flow. It is
noteworthy that while AAA was making widely reported meagre interventions
to run MCD's night shelters this winter, Delhi Police was making available
Police force for mid-winter evictions to render the housed homeless. This
was purportedly in the name of the court order of end-November that struck
down Delhi's slum resettlement policy and even as the order itself did not
quite order mid-winter evictions. Now, instead of pressing government to
move court to place before it a complete perspective of housing
entitlements of the homeless, as promised by all in December, NGOs calling
themselves AAA - housing rights campaign - are pressing for an arbitrary
number of night shelters. This is after MCD, obviously delighted by
AAA-created photo-ops for all to distribute blankets, etc, has already set
aside 2.5 crores for the purpose in its budget, besides even more for
setting up community centres in slums, also usable as night shelters.
Meanwhile, MCD, its closeness to AAA notwithstanding, has not filed a
review petition or appeal about the court order that struck down the slum
policy it has been implementing for a decade.

Why exactly was this dubious mahapanchayat worthy of media space is a
related question I'd like to ask, with reference to another report of the
same day about lack of space for protest. That report highlights the very
worrying tendency on the part of our government to systematically
marginalise protest. I do believe that makes it all the more important for
media to ensure that media space does not at least divert attention from
real issues of people's protest. There can be no doubt at all that at the
moment a key issue for protest by the homeless in Delhi relates simply to
the fact that statutory entitlements by way of over 4 lakh low-income
housing plots and a similar number of small units, all of reasonable
standards and integrated all over the city, have not been implemented. The
land that was meant to house the poor remains unaccounted for as inferior
options, as inferior as just night shelters, are being promoted, which is
especially dangerous as the Master Plan, containing the entitlements
denied, is about to be revised. The homeless brought to mahapanchayats
arranged by NGOs or to rallies by politicians remain unaware of their
entitlements, exposed only to favours that their self-styled saviours are
willing to bestow in lieu of and at risk of downsizing their rights. Those
who are aware of and struggling for accountability on the adequate housing
rights that already exist are ignored by government and media alike,
because such citizens' protests do not count any more unless endorsed by
NGO, bhagidari or such like pseudo-participatory and undemocratic
mechanisms. The government is marginalising people's protests and so is
the media. Voices of victims that media reports are largely gate-keepered
by non-victims, even culprits or at least beneficiaries of victimisation
of victims. Ordinary victims also become victims of voices amplified by
the media to divert attention from culprits. What is currently going on,
is reported and is not reported by mainstream media in Delhi on a number
of issues including housing is evidence of that.


This is with reference to 'Will their scream of anger be heard?' By Mari
Marcel Thekaekara, The Hindu, 31.12.02

The Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad is going to hold courts of enquiry
where victims of violations will testify. And then? Amplified by ASF
'voices of victims' will become screams (hopefully) heard by their elected
representatives, appointed servants, selected watchdogs and self-appointed
saviours? And the march to another world will continue? All the way,
perhaps, to the next forum, well-written articles about which will recount
anecdotal evidence of impact, such as state protection extended to a
mounted dalit groom or campaigner repartee about official admittance of
existence of dirty linen?
Here's one victim saying pass. Yes, I am victim. For being planner at a
time when insidious global processes are marginalising professional space.
For being consultant to 'little people' to whom I am unable to explain why
they are not 'winning' even after playing by the book. For being 40 when
the generation before mine has stopped answering fundamental questions and
the one after me will demand accountability from me. For being citizen
when governance is clearly collapsing and we look anarchy in the face. And
I say pass. It is not that I am not opposed to things ASF is opposed to.
It is not even that I am not for 'space' to articulate, consolidate and
refine constructive critique in the midst of sweeping change. And it is
certainly not that I do not believe, hope and pray 'another world is
possible', for I do as I go about my plannerly pursuits in myriad little
worlds full of victims, where another and better world is so clearly so

It is mainly that I see no point intellectualizing 'voices of victims'
instead of 'doings of culprits'. The voices of victims are writ large on
the walls all around us and we hardly need to showcase them in traumatic
testimonies with persuasive prefaces. The doings of culprits are also
brazen enough for us not to leave them untouched to busily wallow in the
misery of victims and celebrate minor things that change nothing. In my
simple view, if it takes a global 'do' to move a chief minister to a minor
gesture for the people of his state, we have no cause to celebrate, only
to worry because we have raised the decibel threshold where sounds of
silence become voices of victims. We've made the going tougher for people
by adding gatekeeper processes between them and those meant to represent,
serve and save them.

Harsh though it may sound there can be no denying these are gatekeeper
processes. Howsoever 'open', they cannot be open enough. The organised
will always set the agenda, the unorganised will always be
under-represented. ASF's court of enquiry, therefore, may not be more
democratic than mainstream systems and, being 'victim-centred', may not
take even victims that make it (are brought?) to Hyderabad any closer to
justice. What I also find worrying is that many hearing the victims'
testimonies may themselves be culprits from the perspective of other
victims, who can't or won't be there. One cannot forget, after all, that
many of those at forums like ASF are the very people who have been party
to building the very world that now needs changing.
No, I will never testify before such courts because they do not accept
responsibility for dispensing justice, nor for trying to be democratic.
And they do not assure me that they are themselves 'not-guilty', that they
will not humiliate and hurt me with pointless pity, that they will not
embed my testimony in pursuits to further their causes rather than mine.
As a victim from another world, then, I would like to recommend to the
10,000 people may be more expected at ASF a serious listening (not just
hearing) of Simon and Garfunkel's Sound of Silence, especially its advise
to whisper to be able to hear it. For the rest, as one fully sharing the
dream of a better world, I wish ASF well.


Another report I saw later today.

Express Newsline, 24.02.03
Stuthi Raghavan
New Delhi, February 23: Action Aid India's Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan will
present Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit with an eight-point memorandum next
week which will include a request for permanent shelters for the homeless.
The memorandum was formulated during a 'mahapanchayat' of the homeless
held today at the Zakir Hussain College Aashray Griha.
Indu Prakash Singh, director, Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan, said: ''The
memorandum includes requests for 100 permanent shelters to accommodate
over one lakh people and the need to continue these shelters. We will also
request Delhi government to provide loans for the homeless. Identity
cards, ration cards, housing colonies for migrant population as well as
separate shelters for the mentally ill, the elderly and the physically
challenged are also a part of the suggestions in the memorandum.''
Schools, colleges and NGOs that had provided temporary shelters to the
homeless during the winter, have decided to stop the facilities after
February 28. The 'mahapanchayat' was held to find a permanent solution to
this problem.
The meet was held for the first time in Delhi and served as a platform for
the homeless to share their problems. The meet attracted over 600 people
who had benefited from the temporary shelters that were set up by the
government and private schools like St Columba's, St Mary's and Mata
Guruji and colleges like the Zakir Hussain College. The 'mahapanchayat'
was also attended by Ford Foundation's Sushma Raman and the MCD
Singh said that the real focus was on continuing the provision of these
shelters for protection from the terrible heat and the monsoon that would
hit the Capital in the coming months. He added that winters were not the
only months that tested the endurance of those living on the streets. For
them, braving nature's fury is a struggle that continued throughout the
year and would continue as long as they lived. Although the need was for
about 52 shelters, only 13 tents could be set up, but Singh was optimistic
that this was only a beginning and that the combined efforts of the
organisations involved would ensure a decent living for the lakhs of
homeless living in the Capital.
Singh said that the homeless who had been able to tide through the
nail-biting cold solely because of the temporary shelters, all echoed one
sentiment in one voice - that they were able to have a sound sleep. These
shelterless people were from 22 shelters that were set up all over Delhi.