On January 21st, our class of INI101H1S : Blogging the Just City, met an incredible street nurse by the name of Cathy Crowe. She was a kind, intelligent woman, who was extremely passionate about the cause she was fighting for. She proceeded to give an extremely moving presentation about the harsh reality of the homelessness situation in Toronto, and about the ways in which we could act as agents for change. I looked around me and I saw my fellow classmates react to what they were hearing. Some looked visibly shaken by statistics, some looked extremely sad and yet some look frustrated by the information they were recieveing. And through this entire experience there I sat.
It wasn’t as though I was in any way bored or distracted. I was captivated by Cathy and her enthusiasm. And it’s not like I exhibit sociopathic tendencies that prevent me from feeling empathy – the hours I have cried over Disney movies would disprove that. It’s not like I am a bad person – at least I hope I am not. And yet I sat there, in no way moved or distressed by what I heard. In fact, more distressed by my own insensitivity and apathy.
Shouldn’t I have been horrified?
I had noticed the homelessness issue in the city of course, I even gave spare change to people whenever I happened to have some on me, yet I never spared much thought to it. And now I know why.
According to this article by Times of India, a census in 2011 showed that nearly 0.19% of India’s population is homeless. Whole families live in public spaces like pavements or railway platforms. In my very own state of Maharashtra, 11.9% of the population is homeless. According to this article by the Indian Express, there are only 7 permanent shelters in Mumbai, to accommodate a homeless population of approximately 57,416 (as per a census conducted in 2011). Most people are in this situation due to extreme poverty, and take to begging as their primary source of income. And so far I am just stating cold stats. I cannot even attempt to address the multitude of problems that come alongside it – sexual assault of young girls, prostitution, child abuse, mistreatment by police and government officials and the worst of all? The possibility of getting run over by speeding cars when asleep or occupying public spaces. And I have barely touched the tip of the iceberg (Pardon my cliché)
I have literally been exposed to this situation from birth. I am accustomed to seeing young children in rags and gaunt senior citizens begging pitifully on the streets. It may wrench my heart, but I am conditioned to turn my cheek when they come around asking for money rather than food or clothes. To say that I am desensitized would be a gross understatement. So there I sat in a class full of shocked students, unable to comprehend why the death of one homeless man would spark such rage and fury in people. I understood the tragedy, but couldn’t evoke the empathy. All due to….well, let’s just call it cultural differences.
And therefore, I now introduce a hashtag (that I may or may not use in the future) which I hope will make future situations slightly easier to summarize (and comprehend).
#ImmigrantIssues– When you worry that you are a sociopath with no concept of empathy, but in reality just grew up in a place with far worse socio-economic circumstances, and are therefore slightly dead on the inside.