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 “They are but beggars that can count their worth ” .         William Shakespeare

(Romeo and Juliet)

Whenever  poorly- clad, dirty and expectant people gathering major road junctions, bus – stands, temples, mosques or churches, rail- stations, etc pleading for a coin or two are seen, they are either abused or evaded or some coins are thrust into their empty bowls helplessly. Little do people looking at these beggars realise that the later too are human beings with self- respect and desires for a better life. Very few care for their psychic state and reasons for their helplessness and stark poverty.

Beggars in numbers

As per the government data, there are about 3.7 lakh beggars in the country. Of these around 25% are Muslims. The data was based on religious orientation of those considered ‘non – workers ‘ in census 2011. The population of muslims is about 14.23% of India’s total but the number of beggars is comparatively high. (Interesting numbers on India’s beggar population out! How do Hindus and Muslims fare? , updated July 29, 2016, zeenews.india.com). As per the census 2011, ‘ non workers ‘ are people who are non – participants in any economic activity ( paid or unpaid) , household duties or cultivation.  The census (2011) categorised 72.89 crore individuals as non workers and of these 3.7 lakh as beggars. The census listed 92,760 Muslims as beggars. Hindus who make up 79.8% of total population had 2.68 lakh individuals listed as beggars .(72.22% of Indian total beggar population).

In a written reply to Rajya Sabha, Minister of Social Justice said that there were 4,13,670 beggars – 2.2 lakh male and 1.91 lakh female beggars.( Over 4 lakh beggars in India, West Bengal Tops the List, updated August 13, 2015,  ndtv.com). West Bengal, Assam and Manipur had more female beggar than males.

Thus, there are sizeable number of people who have almost no option but begging.

Alarming

The problem of begging is associated with the problem of poverty and unemployment and it is a social problem of great magnitude as well as concern. According to a survey of Delhi School of Social Work , there has been a phenomenal increase in beggars in India. In a decade since 1991, their number has gone up by a lakh. There were around 60, 000 beggars in Delhi, over 3,00,000 beggars in Mumbai according to a 2004 Action Aid Report: nearly 75,000 beggars in Kolkata according to Beggar Research Institute and in Hyderabad, one in 354 is engaged in begging according to Council of Human Welfare.( Beggery in India, www.azadindia.org/social-issues/beggery-in-india.html). The line separating beggars  and casual poor is getting slimmer where one in four goes to bed hungry every night and for more than 96% , the average daily earnings is more than daily wage earnings as many do not get proper daily wage.

Mental and physical illness

Although many think that beggars are very happy and do not face problems, studies reveal that they have number of difficulties in their lives. A study published in the International Journal of   Rehabilitation by Dr. Yogesh Thakker states that 39% of the 49 beggars surveyed in Gujarat’s Baroda District by a group of medicos suffer from one or the other psychiatric illness. Nearly 74% of them had a history of addiction, psychiatric illness in the family and poor attitude of family members towards them. Over 68% admitted to shame and losing self- esteem, 25% to guilt, 4% to suicidal tendencies and 8% to anti- social activities.

Also, there is no proper enumeration of beggars in the country. Number of women and children beggars is rising. The 1931 census showed 16% women as beggars which shot up to 49% in 2001. There about 10 million street children many of whom beg for livelihood.

Remedies

A research paper ( Socio- Economic causes of begging, January 2014, researchgate.net) in its analysis of  primary data collected  in the state of Utter Pradesh Aligarh district  carried out in 2009 listed the causes of begging and suggested some solutions. The research revealed major causes of begging are prevalence of poverty,illiteracy, by inheritanc of caste, handicapped, diseases, old age and death of parents, etc. Of these poverty was the most common cause found in half of the study population in the area. This study has clearly demonstrated that this section of people are the poorest of poor and their fore most aim is the traditional basic need- food. The other necessities ( shelter and clothing) are far away and new additive needs like health and education are a dream for them in their position.

Flawed approach

Many state governments have ‘ banned’ begging and the act of begging is seen as an undesirable unlawful act. Even the center is apathetic to the problem. Instead of taking positive steps towards rehabilitation and social reforms, prohibiting beggery may not yield results. ” It demands a meaningful resolution.  anti – begging laws is more a punitive action than remedial in nature ( Banning Beggars! by Sajad Bazaz, updated May 26, 2018, greaterkashmir.com). It needs to be tackled with both governmental and non- governmental organizations. The root of the problem should be analysed so as to arrive at appropriate solutions. Laws are not the solution to a perennial problem of grim poverty and destitution.

(In Indian society, specially hindu castes, the poor beggars belonging to brahminical caste are treated differently to those of dalit and lower caste beggars. While ‘Yachakas'( the brahmin people asking for alms) are given food and money to attain virtue (punya) , the dalits are often abused and sent away most of the times. This discrimination should also be addressed and such evil must be stopped. As dalits and lower castes comprise more than those belonging to upper castes, there is a need to address the problem from caste point of view. Annihilation of caste should go hand in hand with upliftment of beggars in the society ).

The writer from anywhere and everywhere supports social justice and equality and the need for egalitarian society

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