The homeless sleep “under the stars” every day, in whatever little space they can manage on the pavements, under flyovers, inside railway stations; it’s dirty, cramped, often unsafe with people, and vehicles moving near their bodies, not to speak of police harassment.
Now, you too can “sleep under the stars” one night to see what it feels like. More than 200 NGOs from 30 cities all over India have come together for the “India Under the Stars” programme being held for the first time on October 2, the birthday of the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi, in which people are being invited to “sleep out”, in the open. All they need to bring with them is a sleeping bag, some mosquito repellant, clean water and some cash.
It is, says Harsh Mander, who has been coordinating the initiative at the national-level, “an attempt to build empathy with the homeless. This is not about charity, we are not asking people to bring money or blankets.” Instead, they should come and seek the consent of the homeless before sharing their sleeping space because “the homeless are always nervous about being noticed, because they feel that the next step will be eviction”.
The concept, says Mander, was initiated by a group of socially-minded organisations in Bangalore where the event is being organised as a fundraiser. Ankit Shah, an employee of Wipro and one of the organisers, says they came up with the concept a few months ago as part of their “Joy of Giving” week in Bangalore.
In the Garden City, the event is being held as a fundraiser with participants need to buy passes for Rs1,500; for group of three, there is a concessional rate of Rs3,000 while corporate participants have to pay Rs25,000 for group of 10.
In Mumbai, too, there are tickets of Rs1,000 that can be bought — students needn’t pay and also those who don’t want to. Elsewhere, says Mander, there are no charges people only need to register beforehand and sign a pledge of solidarity with the homeless.
In the capital, “India Under the Stars” is being held at places like Yamuna Pushta (a squatters’ colony along the banks of the Yamuna river that was evicted for the Commonwealth Games), Hanuman Mandir and Jama Masjid, all areas where the homeless congregate in large numbers at night. In Bangalore, it is being held at the Ascendas Cricket Ground in Whitefield.
In Mumbai, however, the programme has been tweaked into a three-hour “night walk” to areas such as Colaba, Tardeo, Kamatipura, Chembur and Mankhurd where large numbers of homeless people can be found. “We felt,” says Mohammed Tarique of Koshish, one of the partner NGOs, “that this way we would get more people to come out and engage with the homeless.”
However, registration has been slow with only 400 or so people enrolling in the last week since online registrations have opened. In Mumbai, only around a dozen have signed up.