December 10, 2015.
The wee hours of September 18, 2002 saw the death of one homeless laborer and severe injuries to 4 others, courtesy Salman Khan’s Land Cruiser. Salman, his fans and the industry have a reason to celebrate today as the Honorable High Court of Bombay has acquitted the superstar of all charges in the hit- and- run case, pointing at the “unexplained and glaring anomalies” in the evidence produced by the prosecution. However, this jubilation does not extend to the Homeless Collective, working with the homeless in the city of Mumbai and the thousands of homeless people who go to sleep each night with the palpable fear of being run over by a luxury vehicle. Our angst is not directed against Salman Khan or against the right and wrong of the verdict because we are not the ones to take call on that. What bothers us is the state’s apathy towards the homeless, the system which refuses to acknowledge the perils of living on the street and shirking the responsibility of the death of many, many homeless citizens of this country, who have no option but to risk their lives every day as they sleep on footpaths and streets. By turning a blind eye to the needs of the homeless, denying their existence and treating their life and death as of little consequence, Isn’t our system allowing more Salmans, more Pereiras and Nandas to crush lives of the homeless under their speeding BMWs, Audis and SUVs? It is not about who was behind the wheel, it is about why people in one city, forced to sleep on the street?
Are exorbitant expenditures in accessing basic necessities like water and toilets and harassment and criminalization through archaic laws all that the State has to offer to the most vulnerable of our society? Our anger is directed against the likes of Singer Abhijeet, the urban elite, to whom the homeless is a nuisance, comparable to stray dogs and animals. The subject of our anger is the society we inhabit today, a society which doesn’t see the fact that 57,416 people in its “beautified and progressive” city, including women, children and elderly, have no roof over their heads, no floor to call their own all through the year, in the floods during monsoons, the scorching heat of the summers, the chill of the winters and of course live with the risk of being run over by fancy vehicles.
A verdict acquitting all charges against Salman today on the International Human Rights Day (December 10, 2015) is disturbingly ironic and should force us to rethink and reconsider our definitions of the “Human” and “Rights” with regard to the thousands of homeless in the city. We hope for change, we hope that the System and the Society wake up to the rights of the homeless before we lose another “Nurullah”- the one who died on September 18. 2002.
The network of like minded Ngo’s Individuals called Homeless Collective filed a PIL in the year 2012 in Bombay High Court stating for non- provision of Night shelters with basic amenities to the vulnerable homeless population in the state of Maharashtra to respondent MCGM, State of Maharashtra through chief secretary and UD Department of Maharashtra, Rural Development Department through secretary, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, Union of India though ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation.
It was after three years of litigation that the MCGM on 24th November 2015 in its affidavit submitted to the Bombay High Court that they will provide for 7 more night shelters in Mumbai, taking the total to 14 shelters in the city. According to the NULM guidelines we require 574 homeless shelters.
The next hearing is on 16th December 2015.
Ms. Pooja Yadav Homeless Collective, YUVA