For 10 years, Degal Srimangar Sao, 26, has been sleeping in the corridor of a central Mumbai commercial complex, where he delivers tea every two hours to busy corporate employees.
Vijay, as he prefers to be called in Mumbai, is from Kharkatto, a village of 300 homes and 1,765 people – nearly 1,800 km northeast of Mumbai – in Hazaribagh district in the Gangetic-plains Hindi-heartland state of Jharkhand. His nine-member extended family -seven without Vijay and elder brother Puran, who also lives in a Mumbai office corridor – live in a three-room house.
Like Vijay, about 900 million Indians, or nearly 75 per cent of India’s households – with an average family size of five – live in two rooms or less, according to the latest data released by the government in June 2016.
Of the 900 million, 630 million, or more than half of all households, live in rural areas, with 262 million, or 20 per cent, in urban areas. There does not appear to be a correlation between income and the size of homes, with some of India’s poorer states boasting larger homes than richer states and vice versa.
No more than 106 million urban households, or nine per cent of all Indian households, live in homes with more than three rooms. About 185 million Indians in rural areas, or 15 per cent of all Indian households, live in houses with three or more rooms.
Data on the average size of rooms is not available with the Census of India.
Kerala has India’s largest homes
The people of Kerala – India’s seventh-richest by per capita income – live in India’s largest homes.
As many as 79 per cent of rural households and 84 per cent of the urban population in Kerala live in houses with more than three rooms, data from the 2014 baseline survey for Sample Registration System of the Census of India shows.
Kerala is followed by Jammu and Kashmir and Assam – 21st and 27th in terms of per capita income – with 66 per cent and 34 per cent rural, and 60 per cent and 45 per cent of the urban population living in relatively larger houses.
Jharkhand, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are the only states among the 23 big states for which the data has been released where more than half of all families live in two-room houses, both in rural and urban areas.
Vijay stays away from his family, wife, children and parents, except for an annual two-week visit home. Seven members of his family stay in a three-room mud house in their village, which he detests.
He is not sure whether he is really “content” in Mumbai or with his home. “Pasand ka sawaal nahi hai saab; karna padta hai (There is no question of me liking it, I have to do it),” said Vijay.
In Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal, 48 per cent, 44 per cent and 43 per cent of the population lives in one room or no room – which could mean they are homeless.
Last year, along with his brother Puran, who also works in Mumbai, Vijay started building a brick-cement-mortar house for his family in his village; two rooms are complete.
To complete the renovation of his mud-house, Vijay needs to keep earning money and holding down expenses. “Mumbai mein raho to har mahina paisa bhej sakte hai, aur kharcha bahut kam ho jata hai (If you stay in Mumbai, you can send money home every month and expenses are low).”
Urban Maharashtra has the smallest houses
Of India’s states, Maharashtra has the highest proportion of urban population that is homeless or lives in one room: Half.
Maharashtra also has the maximum proportion of “urban slum units” (blocks of population living in slums), with 53 per cent of all homes in slums, largely due to the slums that proliferate in the Mumbai metropolitan region, home to about 19 million people.
With 43 per cent of its urban population living in one room or homeless, Tamil Nadu follows Maharashtra; West Bengal is next with 38 per cent homeless or in one-room homes.
Vijay is one of those who represents Maharashtra’s cramped urban conditions: He lives in the corridors of a commercial building to maximise his earning and minimise his expenses, as many of India’s 360 million migrants do. In June 2016, IndiaSpend explored how this economic imperative played out with migrants forced out of their traditional homes.
Although Vijay’s village is not short of water and his father ploughs the land every monsoon and regularly reaps a paddy crop, it isn’t enough for the family. So, Vijay lives in Mumbai, sleeps in a corridor and, slowly, rebuilds the family home.
“In two years, my five-room pucca (brick-cement-mortar) home will be built,” said Vijay. “My father will be able to sleep in his own room, for the first time.”
(05.07.2016. In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with whom Abhishek Waghmare is an analyst. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. The author can be contacted at email@example.com)