Underprivileged children find their share of fun with balloons at Albert Ekka Chowk in Ranchi on Tuesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh.
Growls of hunger in stomach and no shelter from the elements.
Under the Stars, a unique venture of Harsh Mander, Supreme Court commissioner to Right to Food case and author, in cities across India including Ranchi and Dhanbad, asks educated Indians to “experience first-hand” the plight of the homeless.
Mander, who wants privileged Indians to understand the problems of the poorest of the poor, has chosen Gandhi Jayanti eve or October 1 as the night for volunteers to spend with the homeless.
“We will express our respect to the Father of the Nation on his birth anniversary, October 2, by spending the previous night with street dwellers,” said Mander’s email dated August 19 to Right to Food crusaders across the country.
Under the Stars will be held simultaneously across New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Calcutta, Patna, Lucknow, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Ranchi, Dhanbad, Indore and more.
The self-financed project will involve volunteers ready to spend a night with homeless people, share their hunger and living conditions. Volunteers will also talk to their homeless hosts about their aspirations.
Balram, Jharkhand’s advisor to the commissioner to Supreme Court in the Right to Food case, told The Telegraph that this October 1 project would help two completely different sections of society interact with each other.
In Ranchi, some 4,500 people, including 300 adolescents, are homeless. In Dhanbad, the figure is a little under 3,000.
“The streets of Ranchi are home mainly to rural migrants who come in search of work. Every night, we see people under the shades of shut shops, on the railway platform, at bus stands and even under portico of big shopping complexes like GEL Church Complex, Firayalal and others,” Balram said.
He added that the response in Ranchi was tremendous. “In the capital, over 100 persons have already given their consent for Under the Stars,” Balram said.
In Dhanbad, the initiative will be led by Right to Food activist Gurjeet Singh. “Here too, the response is phenomenal. Within hours, over a 100 persons confirmed their participation,” he said.
Mander will also conduct a national-level sensitisation workshop at New Delhi on September 21 for persons such as Balram and Singh who will lead city programmes.
Dos and don’ts of the programme apart, the workshop will also decide the common logo for Under the Stars.
“Around September 27, we at Jharkhand will ghost our own workshops for participants,” said Singh.
Right to Food case, which started early this millennium, wants to make food a fundamental right for all Indians. Currently, The Food Security Bill, pushed by the ruling UPA at the Centre, aims to provide subsidised foodgrain to around 67 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people.