Traveling by the local Mass Rapid Transport System is the easiest mode of transport to my college but for me it seems to be the most difficult – on my conscience. On the train and in the station, poverty -stricken destitutes wait to ask commuters for alms. Some have amputated limbs, some have malnourished babies and some are blind. Small kids perform circus acts while the disabled crawl up to your feet until you give in to their demands. It’s not easy to ignore a pleading face and just walk past without putting a few coins in their hands. I keep contemplating- do I, do I not? Invariably, I give in.
Begging in India is not something new. Whether it’s the metros or the sub-urban towns we have beggars everywhere. Poverty is rampant and a majority of our population lives below the poverty line. By census, there are a minimum of seven lakh odd beggars scattered across the country. Why is this problem so big in India and why does the Government do nothing about it?
It is easy to wish for a beggar-free India but in actuality, how to go about it is the big question. Poverty is primarily due to illiteracy and lack of education. Dearth of jobs and caste discrimination figure on the list too. These people live their lives one day at a time. It sounds practical on a short term basis but their sense of ignorance keeps them from wishing and working for a better life.
The Government has not been successful in helping these people. For example, the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 was enacted by which begging in public places became a crime. Even Delhi passed this Act but it is not followed anywhere. Even if followed, this does not make the problem go away because the people have no where to go.
Today in India, begging is not an act, it is a concept; a business in other terms. Blind beggars are not actually blind. Mal-nourished mothers carry babies which are not their own. Some beggars even have day jobs but beg as a side-income. They could earn an amount no less than Rs 25000 a month. Not too many people are aware of it but the beggar-scams that are in operation in India are scandalous.
Videos of doctors offering to amputate limbs of beggars have been seen on television. In Slum dog Millionaire, little children were shown being blinded because a disability would raise sympathy and deserve a higher income.
In Delhi, children go missing periodically. Most of them are kidnapped by mafia gangs and made to beg throughout the day. They are forced to bring a minimum stipulated amount of money back to their master. Young girls begging on the streets are regularly abused and taken into flesh trade. They fall prey to leprosy and AIDS.
Even if nothing is done about the entire beggar population, something should be done for the children at least. They suffer unnecessarily and quite easily fall prey to drug abuse. They have a right to education up to the age of 14. They must be provided free and compulsory education. In some states, the noon meal program has been initiated. By this , parents send their kids to school and the Government provided them with free education and lunch.
We need to find a way to help these people. But what is certain is that giving them alms is not going to help in any small way. Because of the way the common man is cheated by the begging scams, even those who truly are in need of help are shunned away. Instead of doling out money at the sight of every beggar, providing food could be a better option. Linking them with NGOs is another way we could help.
The core of the problem is a lack of education and jobs. The Government should merge with capable, honest NGOs and help uplift the deprived. Once basic education is provided, these people will learn to make a livelihood and lead better lives. It could be made compulsory for large corporate companies to finance such groups. Mass rehabilitation programs should be designed and implemented.
Giving out a few rupees everyday is neither going to appease our conscience nor will it save the person in particular from poverty. On the contrary, we will only be encouraging begging which will dissuade them from working for their daily bread and butter.
The writer is a Chennai based correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz. You can read her articles here.