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.
Are all homeless people beggars?
I shot these two pictures a couple of years ago at Jal Mahal, a well-known tourist spot in Jaipur while capturing a sunrise. I observed this man sitting on the steps near the lake.
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.
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.
Reasons for Begging in India
Have you ever wondered what makes people beg? It’s a complex answer. I’m no expert in 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. 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.
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.
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 car cleaners 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.
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.
Cause & Effect of beggary
If the energies of the 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.
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.
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 that can be consumed immediately. I don’t advocate distributing money unless the situation calls for the same, especially the children for the reasons detailed in the post. Many people find begging as a means of easy money. If at all you need to hand over money choose between Rs 10 and 50. Many organizations in India collect leftover food and distribute it to beggars and poor people. I have written about people donating old clothes here in India during the Diwali festival. In winter, 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 is 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.