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Why Delhi’s homeless prefer to sleep in the freezing cold than in government shelters

The government is 'rescuing' unwilling homeless people from the streets and packing them off to shelters. Nobody thought of speaking to the homeless first.

Winter is upon us once more. Pollution, smog and plunging temperatures transmute sleeping into a formidable daily challenge for the most dispossessed of city residents – people without homes. The more compassionate among us are stirred briefly each year about the predicament of the homeless forced to sleep in the biting cold. The Delhi government has undertaken a range of steps to aid the homeless in winter months after it was moved to action by years of civic mobilisation, judicial activism and occasional media attention.

The state government has established 218 homeless shelters in Delhi with a capacity of over 17,000 persons. However, it is confronted by a conundrum that it finds difficult to understand. At least half the capacity of the shelters lies unutilised even on the coldest nights, although tens of thousands of homeless people battle the elements without a roof over their heads. For every homeless person who sleeps in a shelter in the city, there are an estimated 15 who still sleep out in the open.

Unwilling to brook what it regards to be the stubborn and irrational resistance of homeless persons to sleep in shelters, the Delhi government this winter has launched what it describes as a massive “rescue” mission. Every winter night, officials, policemen with long thick sticks, and NGO workers scour the streets for homeless people. On locating them, they swoop down and forcefully push them into in the nearest homeless shelter.

Choosing the streets

I have seen long lines of gloomy bedraggled homeless men and women unwillingly coerced into shelters, warily eyeing policemen standing behind them with long rods. The state government has also proudly launched an app, using which any citizen who spots a homeless person sleeping in the open is invited to take a picture of the person with the details of his or her location, and it is promised that officials would expeditiously “rescue” that person by coercing him or her into the shelters.

This official campaign to “rescue” homeless persons from the winter cold is perhaps well-intended. However, it is built around the extraordinary official imagination of homeless persons as people lacking both in agency as well as basic common sense to rationally decide what is good for them and to take advantage of the state’s largesse. It does not occur to these officials to actually ask homeless persons why indeed they refuse to sleep in the shelters that the government has opened for them.

If they did, they would get cogent and coherent answers, as I did when on Sunday night I asked many homeless persons why they rebuff the shelters. Most said the shelters are so unsanitary that if they sleep in these, they contract fleas that make sleep impossible anyway, and even the days unbearable. They worry about sleeping beside strangers, bodies packed against bodies, because someone may steal the few belongings that they own.

Some like rag-pickers, street vendors and rickshaw-pullers need spaces where they can safely store their bags for rag-picking, their small stocks of materials like cigarettes or artefacts that they sell, or their rickshaws, but shelters typically do not allow these. And finally they spoke about disrespectful behaviour by shelter managing staff, who are often untrained, very poorly paid, and poorly motivated. In the middle classes, we frequently underestimate how important it is for destitute people to be dealt with in dignified ways.

Catastrophic fallout

In these circumstances, the newfound zeal of the Delhi administration and police (this is one campaign in which they are successfully and smoothly working together) to “rescue” homeless persons and clean the streets of people sleeping rough has been catastrophic for the intended beneficiaries of the state’s “good intentions”. As a gesture of solidarity and support, I spend a few nights walking the streets every winter, and have been doing so for the past decade and more. But for the first time this winter I was shocked to find hardly a single homeless person sleeping in places like Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, Yamuna Pushta and Delhi Gate, where earlier tens of thousands homeless persons slept rough every night for decades. It can be no-one’s case that these locations have been emptied of their homeless residents because they are now in shelters. There are around 125,000 homeless persons in Delhi and, by the government’s own estimates, at peak only 8,500 are sleeping under the roofs of their shelters. Then where are the rest of the homeless sleeping?

The places where they slept in the open for generations, now cleansed by the “rescue” operations mounted by state officials, police and NGO workers, were rough hard spaces. But they enjoyed at least the safety of numbers. Instead now they are forced to search for dark side alleys and parks that are enormously more unsafe but where the benign eyes of rescue teams are unlikely to reach.

Some are relying on small entrepreneurs who hire out quilts, and if you can afford them, mattresses and even beds. It is a package deal if you can pay for it, because you are also guaranteed that the police will not molest you because of some unwritten agreement between these entrepreneurs and the police. There are at least 40 makeshift video parlours in ramshackle temporary plastic structures, where men are packed together for warmth and for Rs 10 can watch films through the night (Bollywood interspersed with pornography) if it is too cold to sleep. For those who cannot afford these rents, the only option is to wait out the night around small bonfires of leaves and twigs. Once the weak winter sun rises, they look for places to sleep before they go out to look for work and sleep.

Respect and empathy

Is the answer that the government does nothing for the homeless? Of course not. But it must respect the homeless residents of the city as people who are struggling to survive with dignity, actually listen to them, and construct a response that genuinely addresses the formidable challenges of their lives. At present, shelters are no more than spaces where living bodies of the very poor have to be stuffed every night – the more of them fit in as little a space as possible the better it is – and summarily ejected every morning. They closely resemble Victorian poorhouses: unsanitary, undignified and disrespectful. This is surely not what India’s poorest deserve in 21st century republican India.

The largest majority of homeless persons are single working men, trying to earn enough to send home to their villages to keep hunger away from the door of their destitute families. Or these are women and children escaping monstrous violence in their homes. What they need is not poor-houses, but affordable working men and working women hostels, in which beds and lockers are available at modest rents; places of safety for women survivors of domestic violence; and for homeless children, hundreds of egalitarian welcoming residential schools, with after-care and continuing education even when they grow into young adults. For those with grave ailments like TB or injuries, the life-saving need is for recovery shelters where they can rest and recuperate in the absence of homes and families, because otherwise they would just die on the streets, winter, summer or rains.

Of course all of this would require large public investments. Even more than that, it would require respectful and empathetic official engagement with India’s working poor and survivors of violence. This would entail most of all a new cultural consensus that poor people actually matter, and are people to whom the city equally belongs. Until we are able to muster these – and that may sadly take a long time – it is best that we avoid insulting them with efforts to “rescue” them against their will into the “safety” of poorhouse shelters.

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As corporate India changes from strait-jacketed to stylish, here’s how you can stay on-trend

For men and women, tips to make your office style game strong.

Office wear in India tends to be conservative. For men, the staple blue or white shirt and dark trouser arranged in a monotonous assembly line has been a permanent feature of the wardrobe (a tactic shrewdly administered to ensure minimum time is spent shopping). For women, androgynous work wear has been ever reliable and just as dull.

But camouflage is of no use in the corporate jungle anymore. The Indian office is no longer a place for dull, unthinking conformity, it is a place that expects vibrancy in thought and action. With a younger workforce and a greater mix of multinationals and jobs, there is a greater acceptance of edgier trends. Men are stepping away from their blues and greys and women are reshaping their workwear to be more interesting and distinctly feminine. As corporate India is proving its mettle on the global stage and to itself, it’s also growing confident in expressing individuality and style in the formal work environment. From clothing to office décor and fashion accessories to work tools, the workplace is becoming a place to display merit as well as taste.

Work clothes have shed their monochrome and moved into the light of technicolor. Bright colours have steadily become popular as Pantone’s annual colours of the year show us. For the corporate warrior who wants to be stylish here is our pick of trends worth considering.


Statement jacket. A statement jacket is one that doesn’t merely stand out in a crowd, but blows it open for you. How do you recognize one? You’ll know it when you see it. Most statement jackets have a non-traditional color. They could also have subtle prints on them if you want to go funky.

Technicolor socks. Multicolored socks (or hipster socks as they are known in some quarters) peek out every once in a while and brighten things up in the workplace. From polka dots and caricatures to geometric patterns, you can choose a pair to suit your mood or your workplace. A great way of telling people you don’t take fashion rules seriously (except these ones).

Plaid: Well played is well, plaid. Great for your 9-to-5 and even performs well after. Plaids, in shirts and jackets, are perhaps the most versatile tool in the corporate warrior’s armory, and straddle the fine line between formal and casual effectively. They’re also age-resistant meaning a young buck in his twenties can rock them as much as your seasoned forty-plus campaigner. Plaid, though Scottish in origin, has an Indian connection too, in the Madras checks that became popular all over the world after the World War.

Inside collars and cuffs. If you like to keep it classy but still a little edgy, nothing does it like contrast or printed insides of your collar and cuffs. After the work day, when it’s proper to roll up your sleeves, it even adds a touch of evening character.

Coloured Shoes. Alternate your staid blacks and browns with variants like burgundy, light buttery browns and ashen blues. Play with moccasins, tassel loafers and lace-ups. Go beyond leather and try suede and maybe even canvas. But do remember to take a quick course in matching.


Floral prints. Flowers are back (though one could argue that they never went out) and now they’re storming the bastion of your office. Even the traditional Indian paisley is making its way into formal wear. With the prevalence of digital printing, with a little hunting, you’ll even find beautiful florals in watercolour style.

Scarves. The first rule of wearing scarves is to rid yourself of the notion that they are to be worn only in winter. A colourful scarf paired with a monochrome top works wonders. A dozen online videos will teach you to wear it in a dozen ways. Plus, it always comes in handy when the thermostat isn’t to your liking. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw wears scarves frequently, and is a great example of how you can use it strikingly.

Pants. Yes. Pants. Experiment with different styles and you’ll be surprised how they can really spruce up a boring look. Silhouette is everything when it comes to pants. Choose from high-waisted, wide legged, pleated to ankle length pants and what not! The best part is offices rarely prescribe silhouettes, so you can always get by with some style even if your workplace demands a uniform.

Houndstooth. The houndstooth pattern is at the sweet intersection between casual and formal and can be worn to make a splash in either occasion. Whether its jackets or a dress or a simple top, a houndstooth pattern is incredibly versatile.

Chic suits. A sharp suit is a must for a modern professional’s wardrobe. And please don’t even look in the direction of black. Pastel colours or even greys with patterns are great options for suits. Uncoordinated suits are also a great option depending on how edgy you want your office attire to be.


It isn’t enough to be well-dressed in the modern workplace. A good professional is known by his or her tools and how they carry it.

Designer laptop sleeves. Your high-precision instrument deserves a cover chosen with as much care. Black Neoprene is out. Pastel monochromes, geometric patterns and bold designs are very much in. Different materials like cotton, leather and even paper are a great option.

Natural fiber or leather bags (yes kill your black synthetic one now). Briefcases are ancient and black messenger bags are done. Go for a color variant or a subtle pattern. Pay attention to the different leather finishes. Adding a few nicely done metal trims can make all the difference. But convenience and ease are top priority. If you travel a lot, get a stylish strolley and thank yourself later.

Commute pack. The urban corporate needs to be productive at all times, or at the very least, needs to be accessible. A modern commute pack should include wireless headphones, a USB battery pack (power bank) and a wire/gadget organisation pack just so that you’re always prepared.

Machine. We’ve all showed off our latest smartphones. Your work machine is way more important. And like in smartphones, a good laptop is no longer only about performance. The specifications must be top-notch but it has also become an expression of your personality. It can up your style quotient and significantly impact your experience.

Source: Dell
Source: Dell

The Dell XPS 13 is one device that achieves excellence in both form and function. With a virtually borderless infinity display that maximises screen space, and measuring a super slim 9-15mm, the Dell XPS 13 is an unalloyed delight. A sixth generation Intel® Core™ processor and the latest Intel HD graphics gives cutting edge performance for 18 hours and 14 minutes per charge—the longest battery life in any 13-inch device. The Dell XPS 13 epitomises the ethos of the modern day corporate warrior—chic and smart. To make even more of a fashion statement, you now get a free TUMI laptop sleeve worth Rs. 9000 with your XPS notebook purchase (offer valid till 31st October). For more information about the Dell XPS 13, see here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Dell and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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