They built homes for others but themselves have no roof (Book Review)

Title: CityMakers; Author: Indu Prakash Singh; Publisher: Mukul Prakashan; Pages: 608; Price: Rs 1,000

Why do the mass of homeless in city after city, the ones who build homes and castles for the rich and influential, remain without a roof’ Why do they undergo so much suffering and deprivation in the cities where they take refuge for a living’

Renowned activist Indu Prakash Singh rips through the elite and callous governments to underline that the homeless rightly deserve a place in society that they have been denied.

Indeed, the author-activist’s argument is that they should not be called homeless in the first place though they do live on pavements. To him, they are CityMakers — “because they are the ones who build a city brick by brick, through direct labour or supporting services”.

The homeless, or CityMakers, are the countless poverty-stricken men and women, including the elderly, as well as children who provide cheap labour and services. They are daily wage earners, construction workers, rickshaw pullers, handcart pushers, head loaders and domestic workers.

This is the army that every city needs; yet every city loathes them because of their poverty, their helplessness; when they don’t work, they are mocked at; when they work, they are underpaid. The fact that they can’t fight the system is fully exploited by those who should know better.

What drives the poor to cities’ Indu Prakash Singh answers: Rural poverty, atrocities, class division and communal divide. It is not urban glitter that attracts them; the sheer need to survive pushes them to leave villages that have been their homes for ages and move to unknown and heartless cities and their unkempt pavements.

The book says Delhi fares worse than other cities in the treatment it metes out to the homeless. And Delhi Police is brutal in its treatment of those who make pavements their home. “It has a field day chasing the homeless from one pavement to another. Those who spend the entire day engaged in back-breaking labour need their sleep at night. Some say they haven’t had a restful night in years.”

Having worked among the homeless in over 15 Indian cities and over the years, Indu Prakash Singh knows the subject. The homeless, he says, embrace the streets because they cannot rent a room in the filthiest of slums. And for every 10 individuals one sees begging in Delhi, 90 work under inhuman conditions for shamefully low wages.

Homelessness is a symptom of grave economic, social and political disorder, made worse by indifferent implementation of policies and systemic corruption. “The tragedy of our development model is that it has been selective in offering wealth but very generous in its distribution of poverty.”

This is an eye-opener of a book, a tribute to the homeless — CityMakers — as much to those who keep fighting for their rights.

By M.R. Narayan Swamy

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