For homeless women in Delhi's night shelters, there's no respite from the soaring heat -Anasuya Basu
Facilities are paltry and the few amenities available don’t work properly.
As temperatures climbed up to 46 degrees centigrade in Delhi last week, life for the city’s homeless women became even tougher. Women lodging in Delhi’s homeless night shelters (or raen basera), have few options to beat the heat.
Only 21 out of 263 night shelters run by the government-controlled Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board cater to women. Jyoti Banal shifted to a cabin in one of the shelters near the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, a prominent Sikh place of worship located at the centre of Delhi, when she got a job at a call centre. Despite the job, she chose the homeless shelter because her salary is still very limited and she is anxious about living by herself in the areas where she would be able to afford the rent. She has family in Delhi but – because she is an orphan – they have abandoned her to her fate.
“We have two [air] coolers in each cabin and also exhaust fans but the steel cabins become so hot during the day that nothing works here and the heat remains trapped inside at night. We get cold water either from the Gurudwara or the water dispenser. That’s all. It’s enough that I have a roof over my head,” said Banal while fanning herself furiously with a magazine.
As heatwaves become more common and severe in India, it is the poor and vulnerable who fall victim to the heat first. Sweltering conditions are being felt this year across South Asia. In Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city, an estimated 100 people have been killed by recent hot weather, with temperatures expected to continue into June. Between 2013 and 2016, over 4,000 Indians lost their lives to heat – and it is likely that the numbers are under-reported.
Authorities say the number of deaths have fallen dramatically in recent years as a result of public health campaigns, including sending temperature warnings through the media and WhatsApp. But for the homeless poor in Delhi, the heat is inescapable.
No support for Delhi’s homeless shelters
The raen basera complex is managed by an NGO, Humana People to People India. The caretaker, Monika Sharma, said that despite problems with some criminals, her team members have managed the complex well. Most women either walk in or have been rescued from the street. “We provide women with oral rehydration whenever they complain of heat stroke as most of these women leave the shelter in the day to eke out a livelihood. We have a fully functional clinic for any emergency and take them to the nearest hospital,” said Sharma.
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