In India, there are two types of Social Work Practice i.e., Generalist Social Work Practice and Specialist Social Work Practice. When I was doing my Masters in Social Work, the practice adopted was Generalist. Generalist Social Work practitioners work holistically; they work as broker services, advocate, counsel, educate, organize etc with individuals, families, community, organizations, social policies etc in various settings. My interest in the issue of homelessness started when I was pursuing the Masters in Social Work from Delhi School of Social Work, Delhi University in 2009-2011.
My Social Work Practice became Specialist in purpose when I joined for Master of Philosophy (M.Phil). In Specialist, the researcher may have purposefully chosen their area of interest and pursue a greater depth of knowledge and experience in one specific area. Being motivated to work on the issue of homelessness, I wrote the M.Phil thesis titled, “Life on the Streets: Experiences of People Living on the Streets in Mumbai” in 2013.
The engagement in terms of work and field scenario was different in Delhi and Mumbai (two metropolitan cities of India). In Delhi, it was the part of Fieldwork block placement. Block placement is done by keeping in mind the interest of the student social worker and placing them in an agency or NGO. Whereas, the M.Phil thesis was the research study done on the everyday experiences of the homeless people in South Mumbai.
The fieldwork block placement was done with the NGO, Indo Global Social Service Society (IGSSS). As part of the field work, I went to Pul Mithai near Old Delhi Railway Station in the year 2010. The visit was in regard to the forceful eviction of the homeless families living under the railway bridge. The government law itself suggests that if the poor and the homeless people have to be evicted, there should be one-month prior notice so that they have a certain time to vacate the place. I went to capture the narratives of the homeless people living there as a testimony to prove the violation of the rights of the homeless people. They were evicted without prior notice. It was a forceful eviction followed by exploitation. I saw demolished shanties which seem like a pile of garbage thrown in a place. Children crying, older members of the homeless families narrating the incident which took place, some of the homeless people were injured, severely injured among them were a ten-year-old girl. Police had lathi-charged which caused severe injury and she was hospitalized. Young men and women from the same place were selling Indian spices, fruits, vegetables etc. They were working as street vendors without any expression that something might have happened because they have to work hard in order to serve their family members. Meals were being cooked under the open sky; the fire was lit with collected wooden sticks.
Looking at this situation, I collected three testimonies which narrated their experience on the day of forceful eviction. I also read the Indian Railway Affidavit which conducted the forceful eviction in the name of service of the railway tracks. The affidavit also blamed the homeless people for creating a nuisance on the urban place. The three testimonies were then submitted to the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi on 4th June, 2010. This was done through the NGO, IGSSS. The High Court had taken a suo-moto case where the NGO, IGSSS was also a partner.
Even though the testimonies were submitted, it was also important to gather more information about the history of the place and people. It was also an effort to understand why and how the homeless people were settled here. In order to do so, the IGSSS team and PRAXIS team collaborated to conduct a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) with three different groups like women, men, and children. I also facilitated the process and it was conducted on 10thJune, 2010. One of the methods of the PRA was used; Community Mapping with each group was facilitated to make Venn Diagrams. The whole process was documented and prepared final brief documentation which can become a base for both applying Social Action Method in the field and also as evidence in court. The follow up of the court case was later proceeded by the IGSSS.
Another aspect of work was on the demographic details of the homeless population. The homeless population had not been properly represented in the Homeless Census. Many of the Delhi based NGO was also of the opinion that the homeless population had not been properly represented. Therefore a survey questionnaire was prepared. I attended the four days training programme on Homeless Citizen’s Register conducted by IGSSS. The inauguration of the survey was held on 2nd July, 2010 by the then Chief Minister of Delhi. The homeless survey started after that. The state does not directly deal with its citizens. Therefore Social Worker works on the behalf of the state to demand rights and entitlements from the State itself. Social workers bridge the gap between the service users and the State by making them aware of the rights, benefits, entitlement etc inscribed as rightful users of various services.
The above narration on the government being the violator of the rights of its citizens has reflected again at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, South Mumbai. The footpath encircling Cross Maidan accommodates second and third generation, homeless families. The families living inside the Maidan have been evicted fourteen to fifteen years ago. Radha, the participant, and the community leader narrate the story of eviction from Cross Maidan. The then community leader along with few BMC personnel came to see the place. It was told to the families living there that they will be relocated from Cross Maidan. Cross Maidan was home for more than 300 families. Out of 300 families, hardly twenty families were provided with the housing facilities at Mankhurd and Govandi. Rest of the families was assured that they will be provided with the housing facilities too. It was communicated to them that the families have to shift to a temporary location before allocation. Some families moved out under the impression that it would be a temporary shift. Later it was relieved that the community leader took handsome money to evict people without rehabilitation facilities. As a result, some families started living on the pavements, some families migrated to their hometown and only a few families were provided with housing facilities. Some of the families were not willing to vacate. ‘Police had lathi-charged on us. We were not given one-month prior notice to vacate the place’. Homeless families were evicted from the Cross Maidan, therefore, they made the dwelling on the footpath encircling the Cross Maidan. Still, BMC would take rounds once a day or sometimes twice a day. They would confiscate the belongings. Some of the NGOs are still fighting for the rights of these homeless families.
There are NGOs which are advocating from the State government to increase the facility of Shelter homes and also demanding for its creation. The review done by us of the Shelter homes narrates the story that the conditions of shelter homes are pathetic. The blankets given are wet and unhygienic to use, washrooms are unclean, etc. The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) have filed a petition in the High Court of Maharashtra asking the government to take necessary steps as per the Supreme Court which binds the state to have one shelter home per one lakh population. According to the Supreme Court order, Mumbai should have 184 shelter homes capable of 18,400 people which is only one-third of the total homeless population in Mumbai according to the census 2011. According to the recent studies, there is 14 BMC shelters and another seven run by NGOs which together house around 1,920 people.
In both the scenario, there is a constant question on the very nature of the State. State, the one who should be the protector of the rights of its citizens becomes the violator of their rights and privileges.
The above narratives from the fieldwork in Delhi and Mumbai are the reflection of the situation of homeless people in India and some of the engagements done by the social workers. During my time in Finland, I never saw a homeless person. One might say that the weather is so cold than it is difficult to survive in open. In reality, to my surprise, Finland almost seems to solve the issue of homelessness. The concepts like ‘Housing First’ or ‘give homes to homeless’ were fascinating. Finland has social security services like KELA/FPA which gives financial support to people facing unemployment. The municipality gives social services related to housing. All these provisions, schemes and policies seems to be in place whereas in India, there are various policies, provisions, and laws to safeguard the rights of the homeless population but there is a huge gap in terms of implementation. There are various provisions for the Shelter Homes as directed by the state and central government in India. Talking about Mumbai, the shelter homes do not serve the purpose of the homeless families. Therefore, there is a lot of scope for social workers hence it becomes important for social workers to understand the field and work towards social justice and social empowerment of its participants.
Apart from the service, the attitude towards the issue of homelessness remains same in Finland and in India. The expression seems to echo “Not in my neighborhood”. Even though homelessness is seen as the structural issue still individuals are blamed for being homeless. This is reflected in the derogatory language used in reference to the homelessness. In our meeting with Tampere City Housing Services, it was narrated that the negative connotation was used towards homeless people. The word used was ‘pummi’ which refers as ‘human trash’ although it was publicly criticized in Finland. In the same way, in India the negative connotations have been criticized but there are certain sections of people who are of the opinion that the homeless people are beggars, drunkards, mentally ill and thieves etc.
In India, the first step of the social worker is to build rapport with her/his participants, focusing more on the interaction and knowing about the everyday lives of the participants. The social worker believes more on bottom-up approaches. After knowing the problem and issue identification, the Social Workers then take various interventions and tools and techniques of social work methods.
It is very important to engage in the understanding of Social Work in different settings and in different social context. In Finland, the social security services seem to almost solve the issue of homelessness which would take certain years for India to achieve. The gap between the participant and the social worker should be reduced. The social worker relationship with the homeless people should not reflect that “you have a table in between”. Therefore the first step of fieldwork in India is to have good rapport with the participants. The participants are seen as the knowledge providers to the researcher or the social work practitioners. It is considered that they know their situation better therefore the social worker should act as an agent to provide necessary facilities. This was also reflected when the Global Social Workers and Tampere City Housing Services explained the informal group work done with the homeless participants. These informal activities are also done in India but the only different is of the setting and the focus of the activity. Social workers across the world stand as a helping profession therefore it is important to know them as individuals. The word homeless is not just eight letter alphabet; it is various faces which reflect the stories of individual suffering of being in certain status. It provides the scope to unlearn in the process of learning.
Kirjoittaja Swati Singh on sosiaalityön jatko-opiskelija, joka opiskeli syyslukauden 2018 Tampereen yliopistossa.