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What New Year, ask Delhi's homeless

by fwire  Jan 1, 2013 23:31 IST

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New Delhi, Jan 1 (IANS) Hunched under a tattered blanket for a little warmth under the Nehru Place flyover in south Delhi, a frail 43-year-old shivers on the first day of 2013, which started on a freezing note at four degrees Celsius.

For him, and hundreds of the homeless on the streets of Delhi, the New Year is just another day and heralding the dawn of another year is swathed in misery rather than celebration.

"This New Year has nothing to offer me. The day will pass like any another day. What I am concerned about is the dipping temperature which I have to battle the entire season," said Avtar Saran, one among the thousands without a roof over their heads.

Avtar Saran told IANS he spent New Year's eve writhing and shivering in the coldest night of the season.

"For the past 10 years I have been welcoming New Year like this. Instead of celebrating like others who have money, I retire early in the night lest I am hit by a speeding car or invite trouble," Saran said.

Raj Rajni is a daily wage labourer and lives under a flimsy tarpaulin tent. She has no reason to be celebrating the New Year. Her prime concern is to protect her children from the cold.

"What celebrations are you talking about? It is the festival of the rich, not for us, the poorest of the poor. We don't even have house," said Raj Rani, shivering while talking to IANS.

"Our fight is to save our children from the merciless cold," she said, covering her palms with the sleeve of her flimsy pullover.

The national capital recorded the season's lowest temperature -- 4 degrees Celsius -- on New Year's Day Tuesday.

The temperature, recorded early morning, was three notches below average, said an India Meteorological Department (IMD) official.

Tibattiya, a rickshaw-puller from Uttar Pradesh, said: "We can't sleep at night, nor in the morning. Sometimes there are no quilts and blankets at night shelters. It is not safe there as our belongings get stolen when we sleep."

"I will ply my rickshaw throughout the day to earn. Who cares about New Year?" he said.

The plight of the homeless, who spend harsh winter nights battling the chill and sometimes yielding to the cold, has largely been ignored by the government.

According to a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report, there are 56,000 homeless on the streets of Delhi.

"The government spends so much on roads and public lavatories. It should think about us also. We need houses so that we are not rounded up by policemen from the pavements," said Ram Kumar, a 44-year-old daily wage labourer.

As the fog creeps in on the first night of 2013, these homeless will be lost in the haze of poverty, misery and the biting cold, the only warmth from their breath misting in the air.

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