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The recent gang rape of a Danish woman in the heart of the national capital has brought to fore the problem of vagabonds in Delhi. Police find it difficult to trace them since they have no permanent addresses or records. The difficulty in tracking them, gets further complicated if they are first time offenders.

Police have said that five of the eight people involved in raping and robbing the woman were vagabonds. The police have gone on to say that the presence of these homeless wanderers is a matter of concern as they frequently use drugs in the subways and commit petty crimes.

In Delhi, the vagabonds seem to be omnipresent. From public places such as bus and railway stations to secluded places such as subways and dark nooks of the city, they can be spotted easily on any given day in Delhi.

According to the police, one of the accused who has been arrested in the case, is a rag picker and collects discarded water bottles from railway stations. He was arrested near Nizamuddin Railway Station with the help of Railway Police. Sanjay Bhatia, deputy commissioner of police (railway) said, ‘We do face problems in tracing them, but homelessness is not a criminal offence, but a social problem.’

Police, however, do keep clearing out areas off beggars, vagabonds and unauthorized vendors from time-to-time ahead of important events in the city such as Republic Day or Independence Day. A tea vendor outside New Delhi Railway Station at Paharganj said, ‘These homeless people are present at places such as platforms, waiting areas which are restricted for everyone except those with tickets.’

Police say that many of these homeless people routinely buy drugs with their meagre earnings and consume it in the evening and sleep on the platforms. ‘They earn around Rs 80-100 on days when they manage to find some work. They use the money to buy drugs and every evening, they take drugs and sleep on the pavements,’ a police officer told Millennium Post on condition of anonymity.

The officer, however said, ‘We cannot substantiate these things. No proper investigation has been done into the matter. There is lack of substantial proof of their involvement in crimes and hence it is difficult to deal with the problem.’

Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) takes care of homeless people during winter by providing them temporary shelters and blankets. The board claims that despite the several drives launched by them, people are not ready to move into shelters. ‘They prefer their freedom and security to live under flyovers and traffic signals,’ said a DUSIB official.

DK Singh, DUSIB official said, ‘I would not be surprised, if I get to know that XYZ person, who use to beg under ABC flyover, has been arrested for being involved in a criminal activity.’

‘On many occasions, when we launch drives and ask these vagabonds to move to shelter homes, they tell us that they fear they will be robbed inside the shelter and hence prefer to stay out in the open,’ Singh said.

Activist says that it is difficult to trace them after crimes are committed because of the process to verify the addresses of immigrants is faulty.

Naushad Ahmad Khan, an advocate, also an activist said, ‘Delhi is attached with borders of several other states. People come and start living with their friends as they get easy accommodation. In these cases landlords do not do proper verification and share the details with the police.’

Many activists also believe that homeless people come to big cities such as Delhi with lots of hope, but luck doesn’t always favour them.

In many cases condition become so bad that they cannot even go back to their states. So adverse circumstances and poor socio-economic conditions drive them to commit crimes.
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