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Written by Khushi Khan | Edited by Sophiya Islam

Another summer day has come and gone away

In Paris and Rome, but I wanna go home

Maybe surrounded by a million people, I still feel alone

Just wanna go home!

-Michael Bublé’s ‘Home’

This song clearly reflects the deep human desire to leave all the beauty that this world withholds, to clutch on tightly to a place, a space that is more than just a physical entity, a zone of comfort, security, and appreciation. But what if one has no such place to go back to? What if it is the broad pavement near the traffic lights, an iron bridge above a river, or an empty cemented bench in the park that one calls their home? It becomes an administrative and more importantly a human imperative to comprehend these little homes at every corner of the road as not a littered distortion of modern urban spaces but as an indelible imprint on the impoverished reality of the world’s fifth largest economy!

The study of public spaces has been a focal point in the domains of urban research, planning, and design. While some scholars lay emphasis on the aesthetics of public spaces, others seek to delve deeper into the idea of public places in human cognition, further developing into imaginative communities, that Benedict Anderson talked about. While some embed the comprehension of public spaces in the traditional behavioural psychology approaches, others try to reflect on the role of data and technology in human-spatial interaction in modern urban realities. Apart from this, there is a pervasive debate between the sociology and politics of public places, that tends to structure the entire relationship between people and places in a dichotomized whole of ownership and emotivity. No matter that these perspectives are essentially heterogeneous, one commonly desired focus of producing knowledge on the elements that constitute an ideal public place and ways to achieve it holds them all together.

Everyday life in publlic spaces ©

Something that transcends all these theoretical discourses is practically making these places more enabling, inclusive, accepting, robust, defining, and free for the 29.6 million abandoned and orphaned children in India, a majority of whom, due to the sheer paucity of institutional care centers ( there are just 9,589 orphanages in India, with 91% depending on the sporadic private funding) are compelled to dwell on roads, often rendered as invisible. For these children, the often-constructed demarcation of public and private centering on the lone attribute of ownership is shattered, because for them the private is not a comfortable house in a tall building surrounded by the glimmer of the modern urban reality but those littered roads, dusty pavements, and rusty bridges, that are home to these millions. For these children, the idea of private and public is not different, for them it is overlapping and therefore one can say that the purely political distinction between the two is a reductionist approach to viewing them, rather what is required is a deeper socio-philosophical interpretation of the two as cluster concepts with multifaceted extensions.

A group of homeless children plays in deserted walkways of Connaught place. © Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

By virtue of being public places, ideally they belong to all, but a nuanced analysis helps us understand how these ‘all embracing’ public places are entrenched with power structures that limit the social actions of those who most need them i.e., the poor abandoned kids. Cornwall draws upon the work of French theorists such as Foucault and Bourdieu to showcase that the ideas of public places are deeply linked with power imbalances in society and how the very thought of a public place quite organically invokes the subsequent imagery of a possible boundary to that place. This boundary as determined by the public as well as private powers, is not just physical but also psychological, based on one's identity, discourses, and interests.

Additionally, what happens is that through regular conditioning these kids are put under, what may be called Antonio Gramsci’s ‘false consciousness.’ They tend to believe that they are the unrequired parts of society, that neither have the fortunes to confide in a private space, nor the power to claim their constitutional right over public places. This belief system, both in the minds of these kids and the societal faculty of apprehension is reinforced by the constant ‘beautification drives,’ that are administratively conducted in metropolises when some foreign delegates are to come for a visit or signing off a deal. And this becomes so natural that neither do these kids utter a word nor do the people around them. And if someone tries to raise a voice, a piece of paper (incomprehensible to these kids because of its bureaucratic and jargonistic tone) is handed over. If in case that also does not work, the ‘might is right’ and ‘the fittest rule’ policy is always handy.

Families living on the streets during COVID-19 pandemic © Pexels

There should be an attempt to visualise these children, there is now a need to break all the silence and de-commodify these children by making public places more accessible because more than anything else that is what they consider their own, that is where they feel comfortable, that is where they intermingle with others, that is where they find relatability and conformity, that is what they call ‘home.’

Creating accommodative public spaces is not an absolute solution to homelessness but at least before we find a permanent policy mechanism for providing institutional care to all of them, or follow a number of methods (such as – clearly defining ‘abandonment’ in the Juvenile Justice Act, of 2015, loosening the postulates of CARA collecting proper statistics related to abandonment, advocating parents about safer mediums of ‘surrendering the child’ etc.) to solve the grave problem, let us come together to establish secure public spaces for their everyday living. Let us create a narrative around their cause and help them feel safe and loved wherever they are, after all, ‘we are just walking each other home.’


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