By meghna at 1 February, 2010, 11:06 pm
When we feel hungry we buy food, when we feel our clothes or accessories are out of fashion we throw them away. Unfortunately these necessities of our lives are a luxury for some. The basic amenities which are considered bare minimum necessities, are a rare luxury for them. They have to beg for food and money. The most miserable condition fetches the most amount of money.
Indian tradition permits spiritual begging in the form of Bhiksha to monks and sadhus. They usually beg for food and alms. But this is not the only form of begging prevailing in the country.
All of us have come across beggars on streets, temples, tourist spots and malls. At times we grant them money, at times we don’t. Many of us perceive that we don’t earn for them, which is definitely true. One of my aunts had an old trick whenever she saw someone begging she used to offer them work. Of course they never said yes to it and ran away. May be they are conditioned such that they start treating begging as a profession.
A month ago I met a boy who was selling stickers. He insisted me to buy some. When I refused he told me his traumatic story of how he doesn’t have enough money to deposit his fees. I was skeptical but when he offered me to talk to his principal. I gave him a Rs. 50 note and went away. After a few days I went to the same place again. I saw the same teenager asking me money on the same lines. This time I told him ” I had given you the exact amount you required to deposit your fees a week ago.”. After a few seconds he ran away. It cannot be surely termed as begging because the boy offered me stickers in lieu of the money. But this defraud is being carried out everywhere to ask for monetary assistance.
Getting rid of beggars from the Delhi is one of the preparation plans made by the government for the Common Wealth Games to be held this year. The government has assured the supreme court that the beggars will be provided with food, clothing and shelter in the beggar detention homes. Unfortunately the herculean task of dealing with sixty thousand beggars in the city is to be carried out by ten police officials and two mobile courts. Well are the authorized to do so? Yes they are. We don’t have a central act on beggary. But there are various states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana and Karnataka which do have laws that prohibit beggary.
Under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, (also applicable in Delhi from 1960) begging was declared a crime. The act defines a beggar as a person who has no means of supporting himself. Even the dependents on the beggar’s income (such as parents and children) are also incarcerated with the beggar and persons displaying sores and deformities can also be arrested under the Act. The sentence varies from imprisonment for up to three years with a mandatory minimum of one year (for the first time offenders); imprisonment for the second time is for 10 years.
The act is harsh on vagrants as well as homeless laborers too. It is often criticized to be harsh and colonial in nature. Various organizations find the act criminalizing poverty and illness. The definition of begging says that exposing or exhibiting any wound injury, deformity of disease with the aim of receiving alms constitutes begging. Moreover receiving alms under the pretense of singing, dancing or fortune telling constitutes begging. The constitutional validity of the act had been challenged before the Supreme Court but the same has not been decriminilized.
Ironically the punishment under the act for being poor or ill is 10 years which is more than that of culpable homicide by a negligent driver or even a rapist. Activists say that the punishments are two harsh and the acts must be decriminalized. Most of the beggars constitute of women and children but there are not enough female police officers to deal with them. It is alleged that the law criminalizes poverty. Many homeless laborers, travelers, diseased and vagrants are victims of the act. Not only this innocent depends on a beggars income are also convicted on similar lines. It is no doubt that the act is similar to the vagrancy laws in England and needs to be considered. But if the beggary is decriminalized completely then it would create a havoc for the people. Where the diseased, homeless laborers, dependents should be kept out of the ambit of beggars, those caught begging must be reformed.
Even though the vocational training is provided in the beggar detention homes the same has been proved effective only in certain cases. Not only this people should also contribute to improve the situation. Instead of giving money in temples (which are not under trust), try to donate to organizations, old age homes and orphanages. Moreover we should prefer buying cards by CRY or Help age India.The practice must be discouraged when followed by perfectly healthy individuals. It is true that beggars are irritating and encouraging such activities is not positive for the society but we need to find a solution to this problem.
It can be done collectively. While we should not abandon them completely, we should also not promote them to live a life with no hard work. The major responsibility lies on the shoulders of the government to provide them with work and not detention. I agree it is difficult and would take considerable time and efforts but I am positive with determination we will reduce the income disparities our country faces.