Representatives of nearly all the above abound in our cities, and when both town and village destitutes come to be reckoned together, I do not think it will be too serious a view to take of their numbers, to reckon the absolutely workless as numbering at least 25 or 26 millions.
THE HOMELESS POOR.
On this question I do not propose to say much, not because there is not much that could be said, but because in a climate like India it is a matter of secondary importance as compared with food. The people themselves are comparatively speaking indifferent to it. The “bitter cry” of India if put into words would consist simply of “Give us food to fill our stomachs. This is all we ask. As for shelter, we are content with any hovel, or willing to betake ourselves to the open air. But food we cannot do without.”
And yet, looked at from the point of view either of a moralist, a sanitarian, or a humanitarian, the question is one which calls for prompt consideration and remedial action. For instance, according to the last Government census, the average number of persons inhabiting each house in the city of Bombay is no less than 28. The average for the entire Presidency is six. But then it must be remembered that the great majority of the houses of the poor in the agricultural district consist of one-roomed huts, in which the whole family sleep together.
In the cities the overcrowding has become so excessive, and the accomodation available for the poor is so inadequate, costly and squalid, as to almost beggar description. Considerations of decency, comfort and health are largely thrown to the winds. A single unfurnished room, merely divided from the next one by a thin boarding, through which everything can be heard, will command from five to thirty rupees a month, and even more, according to its position, in Bombay.
The typical poor man’s home in India consists as a rule of a single-storeyed hut with walls of mud or wattle, and roof of grass, palm-leaf, tiles, mud, or stones, according to the nature of the country. One or two rooms, and a small verandah, are all that he requires for himself and his family.
In the cities the high price of the land makes even this little impossible. Take for instance Bombay. Here the representative of the London lodging-house is to be found in the form of what are called “chawls,” large buildings, several storeys high, divided up into small rooms, which are let off to families, at a rental of from three rupees a month and upwards. Very commonly the same room serves for living, sleeping, cooking, and eating. There being as a rule no cooking place, the cheap earthen “choola” serves as a sufficient make-shift, and the smoke finds its exit through the door or window best it can.