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Forced evictions: Driving India’s homelessness crisis

JAIPUR, INDIA - AUGUST 25 2017: Homelessness in the streets of India. Image credit: Pablo Hidalgo / 123rf
Image credit: Pablo Hidalgo / 123rf

It is a travesty that people lose their health insurance during this pandemic. So it follows that it is a travesty that people lose their homes. However, forced evictions accomplish just this.

The Housing & Land Rights Network tweeted as much, emphasising in their message that people from marginalised communities are affected disproportionately. “[Forced evictions] disproportionately affect marginalized communities,” they wrote. “From 2017–19, #HLRN recorded several cases of eviction, discrimination, & displacement of Dalits/Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes/Adivasis/Indigenous/tribal peoples.” 

The effect on marginalised groups by forced evictions amplifies the homelessness crisis that plagues India. As I wrote for Health Issues India last year 

“Approximately four million people in India are homeless. Furthermore, the 2011 census pegged the number of people residing in urban slums at 65 million. Approximately one in six Indians who reside in cities live in unsanitary slums. Although 44 Indians are lifted out of poverty every minute, millions continue to live below the poverty line – with manifold effects on development and wellbeing ranging from vulnerability to diseases to poor sanitation to higher levels of maternal and child mortality.”

In a pandemic as we experience at the present time, forced evictions portend to be no more nor no less than a death sentence. Quoting the United Nations

“Housing has become the frontline defense against the coronavirus. Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation. Governments worldwide have invoked “stay home”, “self-isolate”, “physical distancing” and “wash your hands” policies to flatten the pandemic curve and decrease infection rates of Coronavirus. 

“These policies are predicated on the assumption that everyone has a home with adequate sanitation services. For the 800 million or so people living in homelessness globally, this is not the case. Moreover, this medically high-risk population faces disproportionate health challenges and high rates of respiratory illness, increasing their susceptibility to disease, including the novel virus. 

“In the face of this pandemic, a lack of access to adequate housing is a potential death sentence for people living in homelessness and puts the broader population at continued risk. COVID-19 has exposed the myth of individualism, revealing the ways in which our collective wellbeing depends not only on our own ability to “stay home”, but the ability of others to do the same. 

“Homelessness, including during a crisis, and irrespective of nationality or legal status, is a prima facie violation of human rights. The core protections provided by the right to housing, as well as the right to health and the right to food, are so fundamental to human dignity and the preservation of life that they can never be suspended, even in a state of emergency.”

Forced evictions are a major – and unnecessary – driver of this homelessness crisis. Displacement ruins lives. HLRN, citing data it published in a report published earlier this year, identified “alarming data.” This report found that, between 2017 and 2019, more than 568,000 people were evicted. During the COVID-19 pandemic alone, more than 20,000 were evicted.

Forced evictions are a driver of what amounts to be a socioeconomic and public health crisis – one amplified by the current pandemic. To, again, quote the United Nations

“Forced evictions constitute gross violations of a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement.”

A pandemic is a time for compassion, not cruelty. Forced evictions must be treated as an example of the latter. Addressing and preventing them must be treated as an example of the former.

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