If we shuffle through the pages of history, begging is as old as the first civilizations in India. There have been influential beggars all over the history and the biggest and the most influential of them was Gautam Buddha, the son of an Emperor, who chose to denounce the world and traveled in search of the eternal truth. Buddha lived his life as a beggar but was regarded as God. His followers initiated a new religion out of his teachings. But, begging has traveled on an entirely different path since then and has reached a state where it is affecting the oldest civilization in an apocalyptic manner.
Many a times we face people and situations when we cannot figure out how to react. The most common example of situations I’m talking about is confronting a beggar, especially a one who denies to go away without getting something from you. At that moment, we opt for the easiest way out by throwing him a coin. Isn’t so?
If your answer is yes, I have a few more questions for you.
How do you respond when you come across a beggar?
Do you give money to a beggar willingly in order to help him or you just drop some coins so that he stops following you?
Does the feeling of giving money change between a street beggar and a beggar who begs at your door?
Do you try to help him in other ways instead of giving money?
Do you feel begging is bad? If yes, why do you support it? If you don’t support it, what are you doing on your part to oppose it or try to minimize it?
Are you aware that begging is illegal in India?
You must be surprised at the last question I asked.
According to Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, begging, vending on roads, cleaning vehicles at traffic junctions, singing in buses and displaying disability for alms are all unlawful. A police officer or any authorized person in this regard has the right to arrest such a person.
Still, not all of the beggars are arrested. If begging is illegal in India, then why do traffic police inspectors and beggars are found in unison at almost every traffic signal? May be they are not aware of the law, or may be they are working together as a team.
We Indians are the masters of generosity. We show pity on total strangers without trying to understand their situation or authenticity of their problem. Traffic police inspectors are also as human as we are. We are taught to be compassionate, pitiful & soft-hearted among those who are going through a tough life and who’d be living a tougher life than a beggar? He begs from countless people everyday and still cannot have a good life. It makes sense not putting someone in trouble who is already going through such a troublesome life. This might be the reason police does not interfere in the beggar’s business. Yes, of course, being human before being the servant of the law.
Would you agree if I tell you that our economy is facing a downfall and we are the ones responsible for it?
I know you will not agree to it easily but this is a bitter truth. If you are giving money to beggars, I’m sorry to say, you are a reason for the downfall of the Indian Economy.
In a financial year, where business community all over the country adopts several measures to avoid the taxes which they are held liable to pay, the beggar community enjoys a turnover of about Rupees 200 Crores, tax free!
In a population of 1.25 Billion, India has more than One Crore beggars, who spend Rs. 80-100 daily. Does that strike a chord somewhere? The Government of India, in its recent survey, put the sustainable living amount to Rs. 32 per day. The government thinks if you have Rs. 32 in your pocket, you are very well equipped to survive a day, without suffering from thirst or hunger. Rs. 32 is the amount of money you require to survive one day in India. When a beggar spends Rs. 100, how much does he earn? This suggests that a beggar lives a three times better lifestyle than the BPL population of India.
I was on my way to Hyderabad in February when I met someone who can be termed as the most unique beggar in the country. He has a lifetime railway traveling pass and he is living in trains for the last 7 years. He never begs for money. He begs only for food. He did not tell me how he managed to get a lifetime railways traveling pass but he told me that he has never gone without a day when he hasn’t managed to get food whenever he desired.
Three days ago, a group of transgenders visited my workplace. They were behaving like I owe them money, authoritatively telling me to give Rs. 500/- to them. I was a little surprised, but I ignored them straightaway. All of a sudden, they began cursing me in words I cannot dare to write. I told them I am not going to pay a single rupee to them and they should leave before things get worse. All of a sudden the group began to embarrass me by using obscene gestures, unhealthy language and even threatening to open their private parts if I did not give them money. I simply picked up my phone and dialed 100. I disconnected the call before it was connected but continued to behave as if I was going ahead with the call. I acted as if I am calling police over to my godown which made them leave after I warned them not to step inside ever again.
Beggars & transgenders have the perception that begging is their birth right. If constitution talks about the equality of all genders then why is it that I haven’t seen a single transgender working or holding a government office or work towards securing his/her future as we all do? Have you ever seen a transgender making money by doing any kind of job other than singing & dancing in marriages or on the birth of a child? Even they are uninvited, people have a perception that they should be paid money to avoid being cursed by them. It reminds me of a story in Ramayana where Rama grants transgenders the power to bless people during occasions like weddings and childbirth. We consider themselves modernized but are still affected with the idiocy depicted in mythological stories.
In yet another scenario, couples looking for some privacy in the community parks are stalked by child beggars who keep irritating them until they give 50 or 100 rupees to have a quite moment. Once paid, an entire group of kids attacks the poor couple which results in curses & ill talks exchanged by both parties ending in harassment for the couples.
Two weeks ago, I decided to write an article on begging. I gathered information from many sources but the most influential information was given by the beggars who visited my workplace. We entertain all kinds of beggars all day long. I don’t give money to beggars. Money is something to be earned the hard way and begging is one of the easiest when it comes to money making. I try to help beggars in every way possible but, by keeping money out of the scenario. Some of the beggars curse me and leave in fury as I laugh. Some others chat with me and share their stories with me.
I do not remember when was the last time when I gave money to a beggar. I have been doing everything possible to help everyone who comes begging at my workplace but not pay them money. To some, who were physically sound, I have offered loading goods in the truck so that I can pay them according to labor work they have done. To the handicapped & women, I have given addresses of the various NGO’s in Hyderabad where they can visit and ask for help. I even offered a ride to a beggar to an NGO office in Secunderabad but an NGO is the last place he wanted to be. The secret was revealed later that he is a drug addict and uses most of the money to purchase drugs. Living in an NGO would not allow him to live his life the way he wanted.
First and foremost, do not pay a single rupee to a beggar no matter how much it disturbs you to see him in pain or need of money. Call the police and tell them to help him. Call the municipality and tell them to take care of him. Keep a list of NGO’s around you and inform them regularly about the beggars around you. Change comes when we began to change things around us, step by step. A beggar is a human first, treat him as one. If you pay money to a beggar for no matter what reason, you do not treat him as a human, you treat him as an animal, probably a dog, to whom you pass a piece of bread to get rid of him whenever he keeps coming to you.
Stop entertaining beggars outside religious places, bus stands, outside shopping malls, in the parking lots. Inform the authorities about beggars, inform the authorities about the law too. Be consistent about it, be dedicated about it. If you follow the right path, people will follow you, if they don’t follow you, they will use you as an example and might inspire strangers to take an initiative and start working towards a beggar free society.
From a wiser point of view, giving money to a beggar is not helping him. In fact, it is the best way to ruin him.
I remember a quote that goes like this:-
“Getting everything you want without working hard for it is the worst thing that can happen to a person.”
Today you might be helping a beggar by providing him money or food. If he gets it today the easy way, he will ask for it tomorrow too and may be his demands will increase the next time.
My logic is very simple. Who is the richest man in the world ? You will probably answer Carlos Slim Helu or Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. My next question is ‘For how long they would be able to feed all the beggars in the world (if they agree to do so)? Not more than a year or so. Therefore, it is a fact, that giving money to a beggar is not the right way.
I know & have experienced what reactions we face when we try to make a beggar to work for money but “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” (James A. Baldwin)