- POSTED: 26 Dec 2013 16:41
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With temperatures dropping across most of northern India, people living on the streets are worst hit. Of these, women are often the worst sufferers - having to battle not only the cold but abuse as well.
NEW DELHI: With temperatures dropping across most of northern India, people living on the streets are worst hit.
According to estimates by non-governmental organisations, the capital Delhi alone has 100,000 homeless, and the government-run shelters are often not enough for them.
Of these people, women are often the worst sufferers - having to battle not only the cold but abuse as well.
Meera Dahiya, a destitute homeless woman in New Delhi, has to endure a gruelling fight for survival daily.
The devout visiting a temple nearby give her alms and food but are not generous enough to provide her shelter.
The streets have been her home for nearly three years.
According to Delhi government statistics in 2010, there were nearly 10,000 homeless women like Dahiya. But the capital has just six government-provided shelters.
These shelters can accommodate less than 1,000 women.
It means more than 9,000 women still have to fend for themselves - living in places like roadsides, pavements and even drainage pipes.
With no walls and no roof and often no protection, many women become victims of verbal and physical abuse, as well as sexual violence.
Dahiya said: "I’m subject to all kind of torture like rebukes, mugging and blade attacks. Some lecherous and drunkard men look at me with an evil sight. Out of fear, I don't tell anyone where I sleep."
People working closely with the destitute believe that homelessness for women is a glaring indicator of government failure - even though there are a number of welfare laws in India designed to protect women.
With no residence or proof of identity, those on the streets remain deprived of the government schemes and livelihood opportunities.
Meeta Bhandari, project coordinator at Indo-Global Social Service Society, said: "Some families, who are modest, are entitled to certain rights. When they don't get all the benefits then how can these homeless women get any? They don't have an identity. They are just the women of the roads."
Life in the government-provided shelters is better because it provides a roof over people's heads.
Most only open their doors at night and only the first 40 lucky women get a chance to sleep inside the four walls. There is no toilet.
Bhandari said: "The major problem is that of women who have growing up girls with them, adolescent women. They don't have any privacy. Visiting (the toilet) at odd hours remains a problem as most of the public toilets remain shut from night till early morning."
None of the political parties had homeless women on their agenda in the recently-held elections.