Commonwealth Games Not Over for Delhi Poor

Homeless tents Delhi Last year’s stubbed toes in Delhi over India’s first shot at hosting the Commonwealth Games are still in the news in the wake of continued outrage at the national embarrassment caused by the widespread corruption that revealed shoddy construction and desultory preparations.  The headlines were full of charges and counter charges as the special report on accountability has been made public.  For the 45,000 families estimated to have been displaced by the Games, the memories are also still vivid and the experience still a daily grind.  With the ACORN Delhi organizing team, I visited the ITO community across from the now vacant athlete dormitory (waiting for condo sales!).

ACORN India with partners is operating a homeless tent across the highway from the dorms where up to 60 or more are staying nightly, still unable to find replacement housing.  This is one of 84 such homeless tents pitched about Delhi and provided by the Delhi Municipal Corporation.  Looking over the edge of the expressway from the front of the tent I could see recycling sorting going on all around complete with weighing areas and bundling, all crammed next to rows of bicycle rickshaws which are once again the livelihoods of many of these ACORN members.  Looking through a stack of membership applications and ACORN membership cards which also serve as Ids for many of these workers, the occupations were common:  rickshaw puller, domestic workers, hawkers, and waste pickers predominated.

P1010036Walking through the neighborhood nearby was a little like walking through a recycling center with walls, much like our work in Dharavi in Mumbai.  Doors were open that revealed ceiling high stacks of paper goods ready for recycling and then bundling.  On the streets young workers hardly in their teens used threadbare tarps to catch papers being pushed off of trucks and then readied for sorting, bailing, and weighing for the brokers.  In India there is no way to separate residence from livelihood for the poor, and every step through these crowed streets with life and work spewing out everywhere, reconfirmed that reality block by block.

P1010039Dharmendra Kumar, ACORN International’s Delhi director, explained to me that we had operated the tent here for four months and despite the fact that the DMC had only provided one month’s payment with three still owing for the work, we were trying to get them to agree to maintain the shelter for a full year or more, simply because it was so desperately needed.  I won’t be surprised to see it again in six months when I return, just like the empty Games housing that will still be hoping for sales, and the demands for accountability for the Games that will still in all likelihood be full of more contention than convictions.  The bitter residue of the Commonwealth Games still seems short on lessons learned even as the calendar more quickly turns.

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