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Travel Tip |The Menace Of Begging & Begging Scams In India?

Do you come across poor homeless people and beggars on the street during your travels? It’s a frequent sight in the developing and under-developed countries. The number of homeless people in developed countries like the USA is astonishingly huge despite all the wealth; homeless people are easy to spot on the streets. Here in India, the incidence of beggary is quite high. For years, the image of India was synonymous with The Taj Mahal, snake charmers, and beggars in the western hemisphere which of course is not completely true.

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Beggars & homeless people in Jaipur market

Are all homeless people beggars?

I shot these two pictures a couple of years ago at Jal Mahal, a well-known tourist spot of Jaipur while capturing a sunrise. I observed this man sitting on the steps near the lake.

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There was something striking about him. He was busy watching a sunrise. Unlike beggars pestering people for money, he was lost in his thoughts. The twisted stick on his right added to the mystery. I was not certain if he wanted a spiritual experience of a sunrise or was reciting religious chants. I was curious to strike a conversation but chose not to. Apparently, he seems to be homeless.

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Too often, we get confused with the homeless and beggars. Not all homeless people are beggars. It is not uncommon to find laborers and rickshaw people sleeping on the streets in India because they don’t have a home. A large number of such people are poor from neighboring areas and villages; livelihood is what brings them to the city. They earn just enough to eat; a home to live in is a dream.

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Reasons for Begging in India

Have you ever wondered what makes people beg? It’s a complex answer. I’m no expert on this field, but I assume it is a lack of opportunities, dire situations, begging rackets, or easy money. I don’t think most beggars lead an easy life. There are so many odds that they have to fight with. Some are forced to beg because of circumstances like disability, mentally challenged and socially unwanted people; they have been turned down by society or relatives.

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A disabled person begging at a temple in Jaipur.

Many of us have been chased by beggars at some point in our lives. Some really pester beyond the acceptable levels by pulling clothes or knocking on the door or window of a car. Some beggars use expletive language if you decide not to give money. Foreign tourists invariably experience being chased by beggars. It is part of  the “Indian experience.” While some travelers choose to hand out money to beggars, many opt-outs. Once I saw a tourist kicking a begging kid because he pissed him off beyond his tolerance level.

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A homeless poor man in Jaipur

Beggary Scams In India

The following are the most popular begging scams in Jaipur, India

  • Pregnant Lady ploy -a few years ago, a common begging scam going around in Jaipur involved a gang of women at traffic signals with a young pregnant woman who pretended to be in labor pain. One of their gang members would approach gullible drivers to seek the financial help of the so-called pregnant woman. This went around for quite some time until it was reported in the newspaper and with the modus operandi out in the open, the gang vanished.
  •  Hijra gangs (transvestite) are involved in begging. They are well known for using psychological pressure and resort to using expletive language if people don’t hand them money. Many people give in just to avoid an unpleasant experience. Although it is not very popular in Jaipur, this is commonly experienced in Indian trains.
  • Jai Shani Maharaj! This scam is very popular in Jaipur on Saturdays, the day of Shani Dev. Shani also refers to Saturday. Pious Hindus are afraid of Shani because he is considered inauspicious & brings bad luck. Beggars posing as “Baba” carry a picture of Shani Dev in a bucket and demand money to quell bad luck. People toss a few coins because they feel it’s a small price to pay in comparison to attracting bad luck if they don’t pay. Well, we all know who gets to eat the cake!
  • Car cleaners – Beggars posing as a car cleaner are easy to find at traffic signals in Jaipur. They carry a dirty mop, do a quick 5-second clean-up of a car and demand money for their service! This is disguised begging because it comes in the garb of cleaning.
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A beggar conducting his business at a traffic signal in Jaipur

How to deal with begging & beggars?

It is always a dilemma whether to be kind to beggars & poor people and part some money or to chase them off/act indifferently. Its been reported kidnapped kids are forced into begging; a supervisor keeps a vigil on their activities from a distance. All the collection finds its way to the head of the gang by the end of the day. There are many rackets across India involved in child abduction. They force such children into begging; it is a lucrative business for many. Even though the estimates indicate a few thousand kids are abducted every year for begging in India, the actual figures can be close to a hundred thousand. The general consensus is that begging should not be encouraged since it is a social evil and giving money provides impetus to begging. Many feel otherwise because they are kind-hearted and can’t see the suffering.

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Beggars outside a temple in Jaipur, India

Cause & Effect of beggary

If the energies of young and able are channelized into productive work, it will improve their lives and help society as well as the country. Often, an entire family is involved in begging. Traffic signals, railway stations, temples, and tourist sites are where beggars are most active in India. A few years ago, local authorities in Jaipur undertook a drive to ensure there are no beggars at traffic signals because they are a traffic hazard. Beggars were picked-up from traffic signals during the course of a week and dropped outside the city limits. As you might have guessed, they found their way back to their “work area.” The idea didn’t work because there was no concrete plan; it was an eyewash and bound to fail. I’m sure the opinion of people will be divided. Some people feel humanity is above everything else, and there is another set of people who feel that begging needs to stop.

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A young boy begging at a traffic signal in Jaipur

Once I met a poor man, a Jogi who spent most of his life in a Shiva temple in a jungle near Jaipur while hiking. In conversation, he confided that he hailed from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. He ran away from home at a young age because his relatives “betrayed” him. “Is Duniya me Apna Koi Nahi Hota?” (there is no one to call your own in this world) he said that with deep grief. I asked him how he survived without work and money? He said he lived on alms & food distributed by pious souls. Not all poor people are beggars. Some are ruled by special circumstances like this one.

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Free food for homeless and beggars in Jaipur

How to help beggars in India?

Should you provide money to beggars? That’s a tricky situation and calls for a careful analysis of the situation. If possible, don’t hand out money. If you feel compassionate you can buy them food which can be consumed immediately. I don’t advocate distributing money unless the situation calls for the same, especially children for the reasons detailed in the post. Many people find begging as a means for easy money. If at all you need to handover money choose between Rs 10 and 50. Many organizations in India collect leftover food and distribute it among beggars and poor people. I have written about people donating old clothes here in India during the Diwali festival. In winters, many affluent people distribute blankets to homeless and poor people in India. It has been reported that some recipients sell these blankets and use realizations for buying drugs. While this should not deter people from donating, I sincerely feel any act that improves the lives or conditions of poor people must be undertaken. The idea to make a positive impact on the life of indigent people and society in general. Above anything else, treat poor people with respect; they are humans after all.

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95 thoughts on “Travel Tip |The Menace Of Begging & Begging Scams In India?

  1. Fantastic post, Arvind. I try and make it a point to give to every elderly, differently abled, and transvestite person begging. To the point it is often me going up to them, rather than vice versa! 😀 To children, I give food or snacks. There are times I have given a hundred bucks for lack of change on me, usually after a random conversation about their life. It is not an easy life for them. India’s inequality in wealth distribution is mind-boggling. Ten or twenty bucks won’t make me poorer. But I give, consoled it will help someone who is struggling for sustenance. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Rama, I guess you are a compassionate human being. I’m glad you choose to make a positive impact in their lives.
      I agree there is so much inequality in wealth in our country. We are blessed to be in a situation to help others. I usually buy things from poor vendors rather than supermarkets. They need to earn everyday so it creates a positive impact in their lives. It is not just about beggars it is about giving it back to the needy. The world needs more people like you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rama. I’m sure you have many stories on these lines to share from your travels. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. While not every one is an addict but yes, there are quite a lot of beggar who spend money on alcohol or drugs. Food is definitely a good idea, Vidya! Keep spreading the happiness! 🙂

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  2. As you say, Arv, it is a complex situation. In India, I’ve always felt out of my depth judging a particular situation, so usually I never gave to beggars. I rarely got chased or hassled for long, because my method was to smile, say ‘no’ politely, and then move on, being as firm (and polite) as necessary. Of course, when there are a lot around, if you give to one you will then be pursued by all the rest!

    But I’ve always made a point of supporting NGOs working with the poor, since I feel that way I can help, and it is more likely that help will have some effect.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I feel anything that convinces & works with you is fine. I can relate with the situation you have explained when there are many beggars. I have experienced it as well during clothes distribution. Experiencing beggars at traffic signals is everyday phenomenon here, there’s no escape. I have seen some people pretending to be a beggar even though they are perfectly fine. I guess each situation is unique.
      What about homeless and beggars in your country?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is much less, but the situation is growing since more people are finding themselves homeless in the current economic situation. I think the main difference with the begging, because of the relatively low numbers, is that we often know the few in our area, and people get to know them and their history. That does make a decision a little easier.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That’s sad to know. People often say in UK the cost of living is quite high. I’m sure that must be aggravating the issue. Does UK have social security that promise food and shelter like the ones in Scandinavian countries?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, we have a good social security system, but there are all sorts of reasons why people still become homeless, and frequently there are other issues such as mental health problems or drug addiction which complicate the picture.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I admire your courage to deal with the problem of begging that is too often shoved under the rug in our affluent society. Before reading your post I thought that begging and homelessness are typically Western issues. I believe the key to dealing with these problems is to help those who are truly in need by providing decent housing to the homeless and work for those who are destitute.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Great thought. Unlike many western countries, we don’t have social security. There is rising incidence of inequal wealth. Also, the job opportunities though exists but have their own issues. Of course, it is not difficult to find some work. Out here in this part of the world the issues around beggary is complex.
      Thanks for offering your perspective. Is homlesness a major issue in Canada than beggary?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I guess it is a by product of affluence and money to a great extent. In most large cities across the world, people behave like zombies – programmed to ignore things they see. There were some social experiments in NY City. The results were astounding. Most office commuters did not notice homeless people on the street even though they passed through them twice a day. People in countryside tend to be more sensitive.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. I hope you do, someday! Let me know if you need any help in planning your trip. Will be happy to help. You have an interesting blog – followed! Have you shifted back to HK?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This post forced me down the memory lane to reminisce did we meet beggars when we were children and an immediate scenario that crops up is a foot bridge that harbored beggars, sitting at some distance from each other. Some passers by did drop a coin or two into their bowls and as a child I couldn’t understand the gravity of the situation. This age-old menace has not only increased but also become organized…reminds me of an excellent movie called ‘Traffic Signal’ that illustrated how goons force helpless people into beggary and even kidnap children to groom them into this.

    Sadly, the concerned authorities have never paid any attention to this problem and all God-fearing people contribute to Shani-dev every Saturday! The pensive mood of that old man you had shot with your camera speaks all about the desperation of the homeless. Thanks for highlighting their plight arv, your post evokes action.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Almost everywhere across the world, in most countries, the authorities don’t bother with such issues and allow them to be tackled on it’s own. India is no different. I had almost forgotten this movie until you reminded me of it.
      Most people can be easily fooled with a bit of religion and bad luck thrown in. Partly because they have been raised and conditioned not to question anything when it comes to religion. It’s ironic. With so many issues intertwined it’s difficult to arrive at conclusion. But I guess we all can make a difference at our own level. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and personal experience.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post Arv, we did encounter beggars in India, but not as many as we expected, and in some cities we didn’t see any beggars. What we encountered everywhere was touts/scammers trying to charge us exorbitant fees for their product or service, or ‘guides’ at temples asking for ‘donations’. We never gave to beggars or these touts, but as you’ve suggested, we did try to buy our food and supplies from smaller shops or markets rather than large stores. We felt that would go towards helping them more than giving money to random people.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree foreign travellers have to deal with touts, guides, tuk tuk drivers, who tend to be a lot pushier selling services. I am sure being a well travelled couple it was easier to smell the trap for you guys. I am glad you chose to contribute in your way to help people. Did you guys visit beyond the standard tourist circuit?

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      1. Yes we were in India for 8 months so we visited a lot of the country. We spent a lot of time in the mountains (Ladakh, HP and Uttarakhand) but also went to many places in the east and south where there were very few foreign tourists. I think that’s where fewer beggars approached us, but a lot more people wanted to take our picture with them!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hills have low incidence of begging. Exploring all these places have given you a better understanding of the country and its culture. You guys are true explorers.

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  6. Interesting that you posted this today, Arv. As of today I was driving in downtown Los Angeles my thoughts were with all the homeless people… among the richest and tallest buildings of Los Angeles, you see countless homeless right at the stoplight of an intersection facing them… my heart dropped for a moment, and here I am going to see a photo exhibition of an Iranian female photographer living in exile, who’s strong work exhibits the living circumstances in Iran after the revolution. Homelessness here in the US is rising everyday, they are not necessarily beggars. When I was in India a few years ago, of course I was faced with many beggars, and often I gave them money, maybe because of being a tourist I felt like a guilt in me, having the money to travel, by all means I am traveling on a small budget, but when it came to children beggars my heart was often so broken and to be honest I didn’t know how to handle that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good post Arvind. I was bit sceptical when I read the title of the post as we in India are driven more by prejudices than anything else. But your post reflects compassion as well as your understanding of the Indian social structure.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are many sides of every story and the truth is never a straight line. There are many context and situations. I have shared my thoughts. Begging is surely a menace but have we really grasped the situation as we think we have? Who knows if the beggar himself is a victim? I guess we need to think on a different level. As a traveller we do experience it everywhere. Isn’t it so?

      Liked by 2 people

  8. A post that’s different from your usual posts, and for the first time I am reading a blog on beggers. Many of these are part of larger well-organized racket and the beggers are just helpless people forced into it. You mention it too. I personally use my discretion while handing over money to beggers. Never to the young ones, and children and those that otherwise look capable of doing some work. I give money to the old and the feeble and if I feel someone is mentally deranged. You mention giving them food and I have tried that so many times. They only want money, not food. I like the point you make here about some people not being beggers but actually just victims of certain situations.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Neelanjana, There are so many perspectives that drawing a straight forward conclusion makes little sense. You too have made a couple of observations. I’m glad you evaluate each situation before taking a step. We also experience this as travellers. There are many more things I wish to share. This post was in draft for more than a year. I have couple of more such themes to write but I’m not sure when I will write about them. We don’t just need more travel guides, there are too many of them and for some I feel I cannot offer any novel or unique perspective. Have you ever thought of writing something other than a destination guide or travelogue? May be something on how to ensure safety as a solo female traveler?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I haven’t thought of writing something different on travel like what you just mention. I do write about other things outside travel once in a while. You’ve seen that. Also there are many write-ups on things like safety for women travelers, though you do give me an idea. I can write my own perspective about it. Will eagerly wait to read the other themes you mention, whenever you write them.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I agree there are many articles on these issues but a large number of them are generic. Providing your own perspective based on experiences is definitely unique. I already have so many ideas but I’m not sure when will I get time to write them. It seems I have been experiencing far more than what I can share. This has also prompoted me to slow down in experiencing many things. Anyways, that’s life. Have you ever thought of writing about one single experience from your travel? May be a conversation with a local and what went in your mind during or after it was over? This is going beyond the usual travel.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Slowing down on your experiences sounds good to me, you get to have richer experiences that way. I haven’t thought of that way but now that you mention I think I did write some posts like that – such as the one about the stranger i met in Jami Masjid at Ahmedabad who I wasn’t sure if I could trust but who helped me go to a certain place. Then the paranormal experience I had in a hotel room in the US. But thank you for the ideas 🙂

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      4. Cool. I remember reading about your Gujrat experience but paranormal…can’t recall. Can you lead me to the same?
        I always feel these are the unique things that we experience as an individual. Anyways, thanks for sharing, Neel.

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      5. I guess I must have forgotten about it. I can also see my comment. Thanks for sharing, nevertheless. I can understand how you must have felt after getting to know the haunted connection of the hotel.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course. Developing and less developed countries are the worst sufferers. In developed countries corruption exists but at a higher level. Whereas in other countries people have to deal with it at all levels. There’s no escape. What is your opinion?

      Liked by 2 people

  9. This was such a compassionate and well-written post.

    Canada has similar problems with beggars and homeless people. We, too, struggle to figure out how best to help them. Generally, giving money has been found not to be helpful in the long run. But a lot of charities do encourage us to give food, socks, hygiene supplies like soap, and similar items if we want to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lydia. I guess it is a difficult subject everywhere because there are no easy answers and solutions. I agree handing out money doesn’t solve problems. It only complicates. Money is a kind of drug and deaddiction is hard. Is the number of homeless and poor people rising in Canada?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Begging has become the biggest menace in the city traffic signals. Menace because it brings emotional turmoil (especially watching women with tiny kids in tow) and irritation (when they keep persistently demanding for money in a repetitive and exasperating way). It is understood that many of them are the members of begging rackets who seems to have a daily target of collection. It is really sad to see people forced to work under such circumstances. I do not have a proper idea how to channelise the young energy engaged in the business in a better and respectable way but it definitely needs to stop. There are many NGO that works for such homeless people and even for the people working for the begging rackets and I hope the situation will improve someday. Till then I too request all to be respectful to all the homeless and the beggers and all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sarmistha for offering your perspective and experiences. I haven’t heard of any NGO working to alleviate this problem but I’m sure there must be a few. Human trafficking is a big problem. There are gangs who steal small kids especially from mothers sleeping on the railway platforms and turn these kids into beggars. It is so unfortunate. I do come across stories in the newspaper of such rackets being caught. I hope someday we get to crack this issue from the root.

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    1. Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a research, these are experiences and observations. I know how it sounds but we humans want to “utilize” all available avenues to extract money. That’s where we are headed! Money has always lured humans to do all sorts of things…sailing to unknown land, selling slaves, colonising far away lands….well only the methodology changes! Do you have any experiences to share wrt to beggars in your city?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry about the late reply. I had replied but for some reason WP hasn’t published it. You’re right about how only the methodology changes while the aim remains the same. Take capitalism for example. I don’t have much to share as far as beggars in my city are concerned. They are pretty much the same as in your city except the few unique things you described about them. But that’s a one-off thing, right?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I guess aim is universal…across the world. The methodology is always fine tweaked based on the psychology of people. As for WP not publishing, technical glitches do happen. Hope things are well at your end.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Ketki. I’m glad you could relate with this topic. I’m sure this is something all of experience both in the cities we live in as well travel destinations. Do you have any experiences to share?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yess… I have such experiences…many a time I personally Neglected but this is never ending topic… We all must discuss about this.. And have to fight with this problem.. In my upcoming tourist blog…i will write something about it… Thanks

        Liked by 1 person

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