Public menace that beggars belief

Sumantra Maitra - Calcutta, India

Have you ever wondered what railway stations, bus stops, religious places, and footpaths or for that matter, public toilets in the sub-continent have in common? Perhaps, you guessed it right - they are infested with beggars, probably the most efficient and industrious set of professionals I have ever encountered.

At all the said places, beggars are religiously active. Yes, I agree, any endeavour to sum up these quaint individuals will be as futile as dodging the draconian fit of migraine you contract from watching a poignant episode of the Indian soap operas.

Beggars have more of commonalities than discrepancies. It is time someone told them a few home truths. All beggars have a latent talent  — they can irritate any human being, who may be in a good mood - quite a rarity in this cold, cruel world.

They are all Machiavellian schemers, exploiting all their creativity to devise new techniques and styles of begging, very different from others; after all, it is a competitive world! And lastly they all can be terribly uncompromising in abusing their larynxes. Now, before you dismiss me for being an unsympathetic, heartless weirdo, let me clarify. The recent revelation will shock you all.

According to a report released by the social welfare department of the government of India, the beggar population of Delhi and its surrounding areas is nearing a staggering 75,000! The department attributed this solely to the encouragement given to beggars by the public. The annual growth rate is about eight per cent, mostly because new people join regularly, with no retirement for the veterans.

A preparatory note prepared by a host of government agencies and sports bodies has asked the Delhi government to rid the city of beggars at street junctions and tourist venues before the Commonwealth Games in 2010. The government is clueless since rehabilitation has not worked and the beggars are back on the streets even after being detained under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, as extended to Delhi.

The Social Welfare department runs 11 certified custodial and residential institutions for beggars with a capacity of 2,200. At these institutions, various facilities are provided to the inmates - like shelter, boarding, lodging, food, medical care, recreation, health, vocational training and counselling to keep them away from begging.

They are also taught trades like cycle repair, book-binding, tailoring and cutting and handloom weaving. Officials manning these centres, however, admit that after enjoying government hospitality for a while, beggars return to their old ways. "Some beggars have become permanent fixtures in these homes as lodging and food is free," said an official in-charge of a home for beggars.

So you see, the problem lies in their psyche. The root cause of the problem of begging can never be cured by communism, capitalism, humanism or individualism. It can only be stopped by a collective cleansing of the soul of this nation. Perhaps my personal experience will throw light upon the matter better than any research. It was the post-Asian tsunami phase.

Some of the clubs from our locality collected used and old clothes and accessories for the victims of the catastrophe. The victims refused to receive the worn out clothes, though they were left with only one or two, others having been washed away by the waves.

But when we presented new clothes to them, they gladly accepted. I stumbled upon one of the ultimate revelations - it was not because the victims were conceited, but because they were normal human beings like us who had everything before the calamity.

They lost everything after it though, but not their pride and self-respect. Indian beggars should be taught the same thing - that to live on the sympathy of others is no life at all for a human being.