“Paise de do. Mere Maa nahi, Mere Papa nahi.” (Give me money. I don’t have a mother. I don’t have a father.)
I had just got down at the Sabarmati Railway Station after a 15-hour journey from Delhi to Ahmedabad and was waiting for my cab while sipping on a cup of tea. A little girl around 7-8 years old with a neatly knotted ponytail and a big jute bag, mumbled these quoted words to me. She had a captivating stare. Even though she stood really close to me and I glanced at her multiple times, not even once did I notice the dress she was wearing. Her eyes and the jute bag stole the show, each time. She kept pleading and touching my knees. She wasn’t like other beggars, she would speak softly and hold the pleading face without even a single sign of disappointment. Her expressions remained the same for the whole 5-10 minutes of our interaction along with the continuous chant of above line.
Me: What is your name?
Me: Who gave you this name?
“Mere Maa … (err) … Mere Nani ne, Mere Nani hain”
This fondled my doubt that she was lying about her parents and I returned back to my stone cold face. I was contemplating how this journey has made me so tired and the cab that I just ordered might take a dig on my monthly budget. Just then, two 20-year-old boys with a demeanour of a regular station worker noticed the little girl. They saw the girl touching my knees and remarked, “are pair choo rahi hai” (she is touching her feet). They gave away ₹3 to her and asked her to leave. Yet she kept pleading for me to donate. Maybe she could sense my indecisiveness and the almost strong urge to give what she wants.
Standing at Sabarmati railway station under the huge wall art of Mahatma Gandhi, I struggled to believe in truth. I struggled to believe that this little girl was speaking the truth. She would have been happy if I just gave her a ₹10 note. I had just paid the equivalent amount for a very dissatisfying cup of tea but I was resistant to giving it to this young girl.
After a few more minutes of her pleading and me fighting the urge to donate; my cab arrived. I literally closed the doors on a person joining hands for some money. I could see her standing there while my Uber driver started the ride and we swayed away from the scene. He was completely indifferent to the face of Mansi but I could feel the regret growing inside me.
To tell you the truth, the image of Mansi pleading for money makes me hate myself. Here I work in an organisation fighting for a pluralist society and there, I was unable to give dignity to a little girl’s request. She did not give expletives when I refused to give money, she just kept pleading. Would I have done the same to my little cousin asking for money? I would have happily given my whole salary to him but not to Mansi. I wonder, why I have this unconditional love for someone who already has the resources and such distrust towards someone who clearly has less.
As I drafted this piece in my cab, I heard a loud knock on the window- a lady in her 20s, mumbling words so similar to that of Mansi. They both shared the same persuasive eyes and lured me to feel better by donating money. This loud knock reminded me about the readings on the begging condition in India. A retrace to all the articles that I’ve read about Indian beggars and how it has become a social issue in our country. A retrace to why I had once decided to stop giving alms.
Begging is an accepted way of life in India. Since ages, Indian monks have practised bhiksha (food obtained by asking for alms) with the purpose of conquering their egos. Many a time, religious gurus ask a devotee to feed x number of poor to attract prosperity. When religion supports a certain activity, it undoubtedly becomes a part of the culture.
According to PTI, there are over 4 lakhs beggars in India and the number is growing. Various publications have cited the existence of begging gangs in India and the after-effect of this ever growing tribe. An Indian Blog subtitled, ‘Travel Guide to India’ warns travellers about the menace of beggary in India. She states, “More often than not there are well organised gangs who run begging rackets. Yes unbelievable but true there are big syndicates whose sole source of income is begging. For them begging is the easy way to earn money and they do it by playing on the sympathy of the unsuspecting tourist or passer-by.” Another online source, has pulled up a list of 10 richest beggars in our country. The first ranker is a 49yr old Mumbai beggar named Bharat. “He works as a professional beggar and earns approximately Rs 60,000 per month.” states Scoopwhoop. Interestingly, there is a concept of professional beggary in our country.
Poverty is real in India but beggary is not. It has become a racket or in fancier words, people have made a profession out of begging. It’s a social issue because how can we let our young generation be a victim of lethargy. It’s also a question of human rights. Are we okay with giving alms to a kid who should be in school and not pleading to our conscience? Are we okay with reaffirming a little girl’s belief that begging is a job? Are we okay with proving that telling a lie can bring fortune? It feels awfully bad to refuse a little girl’s request but it would feel worse to know that we are funding a begging racket in our own motherland.