Cold Wave Torments Homeless People In Delhi

The majority of people in the plains would yearn to see snow, but the homeless are faced with the harsh reality of cold. In India's capital city, the same scene can be seen every year: a winter cold wave is blamed for the deaths of dozens of homeless people, and the icy conditions force tens of thousands more to live on the streets.


Approximately 47,000 people in the city were listed as homeless in India's 2011 census, but activists claim that number is greatly understated and that there are actually more than 150,000 rough sleepers in New Delhi. For the homeless in New Delhi, who occasionally lack the necessities to survive, the bitter cold is a struggle. 

On a winter night, homeless people slumber in the open beneath a bridge. Even though the city's night shelters offer a respite for many who would otherwise find themselves sleeping close to busy roundabouts and underpasses, the bulk of individuals there live in horrible conditions. The brutal winter is held responsible for the deaths of thousands of homeless individuals and the freezing conditions of thousands more. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the number of deaths from cold waves in 2020 was 76 times higher than the number of deaths from heat waves.

India in A Cold Wave Prison

All previous records are expected to be broken in the winter of 2023, with Delhi and Punjab experiencing their coldest minimum temperatures ever. According to IMD's predictions, La Nina will predominantly be present over the next two months. Are all Indians prepared for the cold wave at this point, or are only some of them, given these harsher imprecations?

The meteorological authority has advised residents to "avoid or minimize outside activities" while they wait for better weather. Driving carefully in dense fog has also been advised. The extreme cold is expected to have a detrimental effect on health, especially in Delhi, where wintertime pollution levels are quite high. The extreme cold has been particularly difficult for India's homeless population, which frequently slumbers by the side of the road and in railroad stations. In an effort to stay warm as midnight approaches and a chilling fog rolls in over the Indian capital, thousands of homeless people spread out broken mattresses and blankets on the streets of New Delhi.

Shelters For Homeless Not Enough 

People without access to blankets spend the night huddled around a smoldering fire made of waste materials like cardboard. The government's network of shelters serves as a haven for some people. Homeless people in the city who curl up on sidewalks to sleep while cars pass by find the cold to be a hardship. The majority of people there live in harsh conditions, despite the fact that the city's night shelters provide a haven for many who would otherwise find themselves camped out near busy roundabouts and underpasses. The Delhi administration is in charge of 195 long-term shelters for the homeless. The lives of the homeless people who reside in these shelters, which total 276 facilities and include 82 buildings, 112 port cabins, three temporary buildings, and 79 tents, continue to be in danger.

There are currently 19 overnight shelters for families, 17 exclusively for single women, 2 for expectant mothers, 4 for drug addicts, and 3 for those in recovery. About 195 permanent shelters for the homeless are located in Delhi. 18,000 people receive services from all of these organizations together. Can we blame the government now? They contributed by providing, but caring for others requires a team effort from everyone since a place is only referred to as "home" when it is much more than a collection of pillars.

Homeless Shelters: Face Of Difficulty

The issue lies in the lack of space, as many of the shelters for the homeless get overcrowded which results in a lack of water and hygienic restrooms. We try to accommodate as many people as possible within the shelters, says Brajesh, the district in charge of SPYM, one of the nonprofit organizations that work with the Delhi government and DUSIB to carry out the rain baseras' daily operations.

He also stresses the difficulties of living in a shelter and the pervasiveness of addiction. People from all over the country, each with their own attitudes and worldviews, are trying to coexist. They regularly use drugs in 95 percent of the cases. They fight and brawl while intoxicated. He claims it takes a lot of effort to maintain the peace. Additionally, because of their filthy surroundings, these shelter dwellings are uninhabitable and vulnerable to infectious diseases. According to data from the Delhi Police, in the months of December and January, 779 homeless people died in the winter of 2018–19, 749 in the winter of 2019–20, 436 in the winter of 2020–21, and 545 in the winter of 2021–22. Since the start of the winter in 2022, 160 people have perished in December.

Poverty in itself is a hardship, but climate change makes it more difficult. But does the word "difficult" adequately describe their circumstance? The world is their prison, and every hardship serves as their atonement; being poor is no less than a crime. They might not be victims of war, but they are victims of humanity, and we are all their tormentors. Our contribution to climate change is a gamble we are destined to lose. 

Written By:

Sameeksha Rawat

Sameeksha is a content writer originally from Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. Growing up, she found her passion in novels and eventually started her journey in the writing world. Sameeksha has a degree in media and communication studies from Doon University, Uttarakhand and is looking forward to making a mark with her stories.

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