For a game of football, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium seats 60,254. If all the homeless people in Delhi used the stadium for a gathering, several thousand of them would have to stand outside. According to conservative estimates, Delhi's homeless population is nearly twice the stadium's capacity. More people in the city lack homes today. Under the flyovers, near railway stations, road dividers, pavements - they are everywhere. We pass them by uncaringly. Daily. But they are not simply winter statistics.
According to the Centre for Holistic Development, which assumes that 80% of unidentified dead bodies are homeless, 279 people died last month, the highest toll in a December since 2011. November 2014 witnessed 225 deaths. June and July, in fact, were worse, recording 485 and 364 deaths. So just as much as winter, Delhi, it seems, kills as well.
Are night shelters the solution? It's a temporary one. Government agencies claim to have organised more than 220 temporary and permanent shelters when there are thousands out on the streets. Overcrowding, lack of basic amenities, security and overall hygiene also drive many homeless citizens away from these places. Facilities for women and children are further ignored while constructing these night shelters.
In the backdrop of rural impoverishment, thousands reach the capital in search of a better future. The man guarding the door of a mall, or playing a drum as part of a wedding band this winter, may have been a farmer once. This is a migrant who will always be part of the city's underbelly, vulnerable and invisible. Migration isn't, however, the only 'problem'. Internal displacement in the city due to slum demolitions, land grabs and forced evictions, say NGOs, is Delhi's reality.
When it gets too cold, the poor huddle up around wood fires. Some bury themselves under ragged blankets. Some turn to drugs to survive the chill. Homelessness is a kind of internal exile. As we leave or look out of our homes, there are people constantly on the move in search of shelter.
More than a lakh are out on the streets of Delhi alone. They are homeless, hungry and cold. And they are not just winter statistics. Below, HT photographer Subrata Biswas documents their lives in the Indian capital. Text by Furquan Ameen Siddiqui. For more pics click: Homeless, hungry and cold in the capital
A family that migrated from Jaipur, Rajasthan, huddle around a fire on a cold winter night under a flyover near Rithala in north west Delhi. (Subrata Biswas/HT Photo)
Sanjana, 11, plays with a puppy on the railway tracks near Okhla station in south Delhi. "It is very hard to sleep during winter nights as we don’t have enough warm clothes. My sisters and I hold each other tight at night when we feel too cold," she said. (Subrata Biswas/HT Photo)
Eighty year-old Bilal came from Pakistan to India 25 years ago. He is now a regular in one of the rain baseras (night shelters) near Nizamuddin. His eldest son, he says, is professor in a college in Lahore. He claims that he has been trying to go back to Pakistan for years. (Subrata Biswas/HT Photo)
Aarti, 45, a rag picker with her daughter-in-law Kanika, 20, in their makeshift home next to the railway tracks near the Okhla station. She migrated with her family from Akbarpur, Uttar Pradesh, to Delhi around 25 years ago. (Subrata Biswas/HT Photo)
A homeless man in a critical condition near Yamuna Pushta, central Delhi, waiting for an ambulance as people look on. (Subrata Biswas/HT Photo)