Ashwin Parulkar on Homelessness in Delhi: Vulnerabilities and Governance of Urban Destitution

Homeless individuals at Geeta Ghat.

Photo by Ashwin Parulkar, used with permission


Ashwin Parulkar
Senior Researcher, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi


Thursday, November 5, 2020


12:30 p.m. PST (3:30 p.m. EST)


In India, homeless policy began in 2010 when the Supreme Court directed states to build night shelters across cities in response to widescale deaths of people on Delhi’s streets that winter. These shelters were to ensure homeless people physical safety, basic services and access to social programs. Delhi built about 200 shelters. Yet the 17,000 to 18,500-person capacity of these spaces remains far below the 47,000 people officially deemed ‘houseless’ by the national census.

The capital's shelter system is also plagued by massive floor space shortages — only 18 square feet of personal space is allotted to residents. Fewer than 7,500 people — about 40% of the intended capacity — use shelters. This raises questions on the planning and effectiveness of this policy, particularly while approximately 3,000 people continue to die on Delhi’s streets each year. How do we make sense of these indications of policy and governance failures? How should we understand and design adequate responses to urban destitution in rapidly growing cities — in India, and in the developing world?

Join us for a discussion with Ashwin Parulkar, moderated by Amy Shearer. Ashwin will discuss vulnerabilities, or risks to future poverty, that Delhi’s homeless face, and how shelters currently address their needs. He will focus on how people enter and survive homelessness in Delhi and how various geographies of homelessness are governed.


Ashwin Parulkar is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Research (New Delhi) where he focuses on causes, survival conditions, and exit pathways associated with homelessness in Delhi. He examines these issues in his forthcoming book, Exiles of the New Frontier (Speaking Tiger). Ashwin is co-editor of The Right to Food Debates: Social Protection for Food Security in India (Orient Blackswan 2018) and co-author of Dispossessed: Stories from India’s Margins (Speaking Tiger 2017), which includes his monograph, "Born Busy Dying": a field investigation of government responses to starvation deaths in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Ashwin earned a B.S. in management from Case Western Reserve University, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University, snd an M.A. in international relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, also at Syracuse University; he is completing his Ph.D. in development studies from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague.

Amy Shearer is an associate behavioral scientist at RAND. She is a community psychologist interested in mental health, housing, homelessness, and community predictors of wellbeing.

About IDSS

The International Development Speaker Series is a student-led initiative sponsored by Pardee RAND Graduate School and several RAND research units: RAND Labor and Population, RAND International, RAND Health, RAND Education, and RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

Learn more about the International Development Speaker Series

This event is cohosted by RAND's Housing and Homelessness Strategy Group.