India’s homeless: Homogenous or Heterogeneous?

India has recently become one of the world’s fastest growing economies but despite this, it is home to above 78 million homeless people; the largest number of urban poor and landless people in the world. Although the homeless form such a large part of the population, they are often regarded as a homogenous mass.  This important socio-economic issue cannot be solved until the causes and therefore the general categories that these people fall into are understood. Bannerjee Das offers a typology that adapts Western categories to the Indian context. The Indian definition of a homeless person is someone who does not live in a ‘census house’ – a structure with a roof and consists of ‘a building or part of a building with a main entrance used as a separate unit. This includes further categories such as: the destitute, migrants, pavement dwellers, inmates of institutions, occupants of emergency camps, and street children. This covers a quarter of India’s urban population; more specifically 50% of Mumbai’s! .This, however, only covers the poor in urban areas and there is a further adaption for rural areas: displaced persons, migrants, inmates of institutions, homeless living in another household, slums and squatter residents and itinerant groups with no fixed location. India’s poor not only cannot be defined by Western typologies – as they have different causes and solutions – but the numbers far exceed those of most western countries and therefore must have different solutions. This begins with identifying the primary causes. For example, 90% of homeless women are victims of domestic violence resulting in them escaping from their homes. About a quarter also suffer from severe mental illness. And many lack steady incomes and documents essential to secure bank loans. The lack of affordable housing is also a primary cause, although Prime Minister Modi has implemented a joint private and public sector plan to provide housing for all by 2022. It aims to create 20 million new urban housing units and 30 million rural homes. This ambitious solution begins to address this large and important issues. Its development will surely begin with creating a clear and useful typology for India’s homogenous homeless.




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