Op-Ed: Hyderabad or Hide-our-bad?

Monday, December 4, 2017 - 3:40pm

Every Friday for as long as I can remember, I’ve concluded my day with a phone call to my Ammamma. While drinking her Madras coffee, she fills me in on the latest family gossip, and I reassure her that I’m well-fed and well-read, and update her on my newest futile attempt at preparing an Indian meal. This week, however, our routine spiels were interrupted by the incessant drilling outside her home in the HITEC city neighborhood of Hyderabad. Upon my inquiry, she revealed to me that the construction was due to preparations for Ivanka Trump’s upcoming visit to the city. 

A couple of hours of Googling later, I learned that the first daughter would be visiting India toward the end of November to speak at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The summit, which will be hosted in South Asia for the first time, is set to host 1,500 entrepreneurs and world leaders from 150 countries. 

Preliminary efforts for the event have included extensive renovation to the city’s pothole-ridden roads, the hasty construction of an extravagant pedestrian shopping mall and, most significantly, the extraction of thousands of homeless civilians from public view.

Hyderabad, known as the IT hub and economic powerhouse of South India, is the fourth-most-populated city in the country, with an estimated 13 percent of its population living below the national poverty line. The city’s attempt to rebrand itself as the Silicon Valley of India in recent years has brought in companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft; nevertheless, economic inequality has increased. For many living in slum neighborhoods, begging serves as the predominant means for survival. 

In one week alone, over 400 individuals caught begging were transported to separate male and female housing facilities, located on the grounds of two city prisons. Begging is listed as a criminal offense in the region; however, the law is rarely, if ever, enforced. When asked about the correlation of Trump’s visit and the sudden relocation initiative, V.K Singh, the director of Hyderabad’s prison system, insisted that this has been a mission of the government for several years due to the “annoyance and awkwardness” of begging in Indian cities. An estimated 6,000 people are expected to be taken into these “rehabilitation facilities” prior to the summit, and city officials have stated that individuals will be offered a shower, bed and pair of clean clothes.

While this may sound altruistic, many of these individuals are separated from their family members prior to being taken to a respective shelter. Moreover, everyone brought into a temporary housing facility will be fingerprinted under police supervision prior to their release with the threat of incarceration, should they be caught asking for money again. 

The summit, ironically titled, “Women First, Prosperity for All,” is not the first time impoverished locals have been characterized as blemishes and concealed from international visitors. Hyderabad took similar measures in 2000 in preparation for former then-President Bill Clinton’s visit. Ten years later, before the 2010 Commonwealth games in New Delhi, bulldozers tore through Delhi’s expansive blue-tent neighborhoods that served as homes for the city’s millions of homeless families with no relocation plan set in motion. Comparably, in China, government officials pushed thousands of migrant workers caught seeking work opportunities in the city center to the outskirts of Beijing to present a more sanitized and affluent metroplex for the 2008 Olympics.

Trump spoke on a world stage about the importance of changing government policies in ways that empower women to produce healthier economies; meanwhile, her visit prompted the temporary lockdown of these very women with no sustainable plans for when they are asked to leave the rehabilitation facilities. 

Uprooting impoverished citizens and criminalizing poverty is not only ethically unsettling, it’s insufficient in moving toward any kind of attempt at poverty eradication. Many of Hyderabad’s homeless have been stuck in the vicious cycle of impoverishment for generations. The challenge becomes even more convoluted when you consider the multitude of circumstances that lead to homelessness in the first place. Pervasiveness of the caste system, lack of education opportunities for women and the overwhelming stigma associated with physical disablements and mental illnesses all play a role in pushing individuals to begging.

It is imperative to emphasize that this crisis isn’t isolated to the Western Hemisphere. New York City’s notoriously strained relationship with homelessness is evident by the 60,000-plus individuals shifting in between temporary housing clusters. Correspondingly, in Los Angeles, the number of individuals living on the streets jumped by 23 percent in the last year alone. In these cities, a combination of factors, most significantly skyrocketing rents, has exacerbated the issue.

What’s even more daunting is that, similarly to India, the threat of incarceration looms over these vulnerable populations. Though many urban hubs, like New York City and Los Angeles, have attempted to increase the number of distributable resources for the homeless, a study found that 53 percent of these cities continue to ban sitting or lying in public places.

Closer to home, in Detroit, homelessness has actually decreased by 20 percent. Michigan’s “housing first” policy, implemented in 2015, is largely attributed for this accomplishment, as the policy called for funding in permanent housing and social work initiatives to enable individuals to live sustainably. Detroit’s numbers support the abundance of evidence that indicates investments in long-term subsidized housing, alongside mental health and other social service initiatives, are needed to benefit those facing the harsh reality of homelessness.

Unfortunately, the current president has done just the opposite, by proposing a $7.4 billion budget cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would leave the division enough to serve just one-fourth of the population currently receiving housing benefits. Though the 2018 budget plan is unlikely to be approved by Congress, these kinds of proposals permeate into what many Americans view as rational and sufficient despite the alarming statistics that portray otherwise.

It is explicitly clear we need sustainable solutions aimed at effectively integrating homeless populations and their untapped potential into society, not bandage fixes that temporarily and, quite literally, cover up the problem at hand. 

If you are interested in learning about or contributing towards poverty eradication, check out the following organizations:

The United Way

Standup for Kids

Pratham USA

Youngistaan Foundation

Lekha Pathapati is an LSA senior.