Homeless, they want to vote for their rights
Over 3,000 people living on the streets of Delhi get together to secure their citizenship, Anuradha Mukherjee reports.delhi Updated: Apr 14, 2009 00:34 IST
For Sultana Khatun (35), home means a tarpaulin shed in front of Jama Masjid in the crowded Walled City. Khatun has been living there with her eight children ever since her husband abandoned them.
Her girls have grown up at a hostel for homeless and street children run by the NGO Prayas, two at a time. “It was too risky to keep all these young girls with me out in the open,” said Khatun, ruing the fact that there were no shelters for homeless women in the city. But this time she is determined to change things.
Khatun is applying for a voter’s identity card along with over 3,000 homeless people associated with the Shehri Adhikar Manch Begharon Ke Liye, a consortium of 26 bodies working with homeless people. Thousands living in areas like Chandni Chowk, Ballimaran, Matia Mahal, Sadar Bazar and Rajinder Nagar have filled up form 6 to apply for voter’s identity cards.
“As they do not have voter’s ID cards, they cannot get a ration card,” said Dhananjay Tingle, convenor of the Shehri Adhikar Manch.
Tingle said although the Election Commission of India had notified in 1993 that every citizen of India should be registered, homeless were left out as they did not have even one of the 18 required identity proofs.
“This city has a woman chief minister and the President is also a woman. But there is nowhere homeless women can go,” said Tingle. Khatun feels having a voter identity card will enable the homeless to demand their rights. “Nobody listens to us because we are not anybody’s votebank,” said Khatun.
For her daughter, Shazia (18), it is simply a question of identity. “I will have proof that I am a citizen of India. Since we are Muslims, people scare us by saying we would be sent to Pakistan,” said Shazia, who is a community worker for Beghar Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, an NGO started by another homeless man, Mansoor Ali Khan.
Khan lived in the slums of Fatehpuri for years and worked for an ad agency. “I led a team of 15 loaders, but did not earn enough to rent a room. Also, if you do not have an identity card, people don’t let out rooms to you,” said Khan.
“We are applying and many officials are positive. Joint chief electoral officer of Delhi Uday Baxi has issued us a letter of support,” said Khan.