A headcount of the homeless | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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A headcount of the homeless

After most of Mumbai’s citizens had been counted over the past few weeks, it was the turn of the city’s innumerable homeless on Monday night. Kunal Purohit reports.

mumbai Updated: Mar 02, 2011 01:36 IST
Kunal Purohit

After most of Mumbai’s citizens had been counted over the past few weeks, it was the turn of the city’s innumerable homeless on Monday night.

The Hindustan Times was with Alka Salvi, a census enumerator and a civic employee, as she went on her rounds. When she came up against a horizontally spread bundle of clothes covered by a black shawl, she called out ‘Mama’. A frayed, old man emerged, wearing a red shirt and sad eyes.

Seventy-one-year-old Krishna Nanavane has been living on the pavement near Dadar’s Hindu Colony for more than a year-and-a-half.

Salvi asks the questions and Nanavane responds the best he can. “Reason for migration?” Salvi asks in Marathi. Nanavane sighs.

Nanavane’s enumeration is part of the city’s special census operation where the city’s homeless were being counted on the night of February 28.

A former mill worker, Nanavane said his wife and son had driven him out of his Kalyan home. “I had my own house in Parel, which I sold to get my son married. That same son threw me out.” The reason? “I danced a lot last Navratri.” On prodding, he admits he was ‘a bit drunk’ that night.

Nanavane now lives on the pavement and has a piece of plywood serving as a backdrop for his cobbler stall. Nanavane tells us. “This is the longest anyone has spoken to me for a long time.”

Infant mortality was another truth that emerged from this late night enumeration.

Most of the women HT met in Central Mumbai and western suburbs had at least one miscarriage or had an infant who had died. Rajashree Datar, 25, living on the pavement outside Dadar railway station with her daughter, has a son who died in infancy. Similarly, her mother had four children of which only two survived.

“We have no money to spend on our health,” Datar says. In another, 42-year-old Chhaya Balu Kamble lost two children in infancy.

For people like Nanavane, Kamble and Datar, the census was the only time they were reminded of the state’s existence. “This is the first time someone from the government has asked me about my existence. For you, it might be just another day, but for us, even this thumbprint means a lot,” Kamble said.

Tipsy man threatens to commit suicide

A slightly tipsy Jamna Paswan, a migrant from Bihar, who lives on Juhu beach, was scared out of his wits when census enumerators approached him. Paswan refused to sign the enumeration form, saying his signature was ‘his own property’. Convinced that the enumerators would misuse the information, Paswan threatened to commit suicide by drowning.

Hiding from wife

At Dadar, census enumerators ran into Shiba Sonawane, 35, from Solapur. Sonawane had fought with his wife and was living on the pavement outside Dadar station. Sonawane agreed to be enumerated, but refused to be photographed. “If you publish my photograph, my wife will see it and come hunting for me.”

Jack of all trades

While enumerating the homeless on Juhu beach, Bhuvan Choudhari, a migrant from Bihar, proved to be an entertaining break. When asked about his profession, he replied, “Sir, I am writer to singer.” Choudhari then sang a song, which he claimed he had composed and written himself. When the enumerators left, he sang another song and then added loudly, “…I’m also a photographer.”

Security concerns

The security of enumerators proved to be a big problem. An enumerator was manhandled by a group of pimps at Juhu beach, when he tried to speak to a woman sleeping on the beach. The BMC had provided no security to enumerators.

In one of the wards in the Central suburbs, the husband of one of the enumerators accompanied her to all the places she went to.