What should be the priority of a development-focused country? Some would say to bring more FDI, some would argue to enable more businesses, and some would say to develop the rural infrastructure. But are we thinking from the grass-root level?
India, being a developing country, is rapidly taking steps to reach to its next milestone of being a developed nation. Enabling businesses, infrastructure, education are being talked about every second in the country. And I truly appreciate that because I am also of the belief that when a country develops, it benefits all of its citizens in the long term. However, we cannot just ignore the present. India is built of people from different strata and it is essential that the basic necessities of food, water, shelter, clothing and education are fulfilled for people from all the strata. As per the latest data available in Wikipedia, India is ranked at 6th in terms of the highest number of homeless population across all the countries. Out of these homeless people, there is sub-segment of people who are even more vulnerable, those are the beggars of India.
As per 2019 data, India has more than 4 lakh beggars. This is only the recorded number, the actual number as claimed by activists is at least 3 three times more than this. These beggars are going through various issues like drug addiction, medical injuries, malnutrition, child labour and many more. And let us see what are we doing about this as a country?
Begging is illegal in most part of India !!
The act of begging is illegal in 20 states and 2 union territory in India. Given the kind of anti-begging laws we have, it is evident that no state government likes to have a society with beggars. But to solve this problem, there has not been any major step taken by the government. Even if the government has made some plans, we hardly see any impact of such acts/plans. For instance, even after 58 years of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, it has failed to eradicate begging in all the states and union territories.
Various laws prescribe to send these beggars to relief centres or the beggar rehabilitation centres (there are other names to this as well). However, reports have claimed that these rehabilitation centres are not at all in a situation where anyone can live. The report has also mentioned that these centres have reported a significant number of deaths as well. Activist Sharad Patel has mentioned that the rehabilitation centres in Lucknow were not at all functional, however, the funds and the salaries of the staffs were getting processed. These shelter homes are issuing salaries of around Rs 4,50,000 and it is giving no benefit to the beggars. Look at their pathetic situation, on one hand, their act is considered criminal, and on the other hand, they are not even getting what they are actually entitled the shelter/rehabilitation homes.
You think you are being affected the most due to COVID-19?
Everyone believes that they are the ones who have been most affected due to this global pandemic, but in reality, it is actually the people from the lower strata who have been hit really very hard. Because of the lockdown, they have not been able to get even the minimal amount that they used to get and many of them have died due to this. An article on Telegraph has mentioned that 8 million children have already been forced to begging around the world due to the global pandemic. It also mentioned that the United Nations is predicting that another 66 million children will be pushed into extreme poverty due to this. One of the article promoted the citizens to not give money to beggars since they would be spreading coronavirus. You are leaving no other option for the beggars except to starve. The motive of the agenda can be right, but this situation would not have arrived if the shelter homes would have functioned properly and rehabilitated the beggars helping them get free of drug addiction and medical injuries.
What can be done?
There is no point discussing only the problems. First of all, this is not an issue that we can neither be solved overnight nor by a single individual. It is a time taking and collective process. While many would argue that the government should be the only one who should be taking responsibility of solving this problem, I would say that there are multiple things that each one of us can do to solve this problem or at least force the government to solve this. Because no great change has come without the collective long term effort of individuals, be it policy change or social change. For instance, do you think the government would have made changes to the laws to provide quicker investigation and prosecution of sex offenders if the Indian citizens would not have protested in the Nirbhaya case of gang rape and murder?
Some of the proposed solutions are as follows:
- Collectively ask the each of the state governments about the status of shelter/rehabilitation homes that they have made. Why these homes are not functioning and providing even a worse experience than living on the roadside. We can ask through RTI where the fund that has been sanctioned for running these homes are getting spend? How many beggars have they rehabilitated through these homes, how many of them has become independent through this process. One of the petition in this regard is http://chng.it/4R67GBLQGt, we can collectively sign this petition which is directed toward the HRD minister, the Minister of Social Empowerment and the CMs of different states.
- Free Food at all Churches, Temples, Mosques and Gurudwaras but no money for the beggars. Beggars get involved in many activities like drug addiction, no work living and many more mainly due to the lack of food. If they have their food requirement sorted, they can think of putting their energy towards earning money to fulfil their other requirements.
- Support activists who are working for this cause. This can be done in various ways, support them by funding them or helping them raise funds, donating them materials or food that they can use for rehabilitating beggars or helping them through workforce.
One such activist is Sharad Patel who has used his own pocket money and raised funds from other sources to help rehabilitate more than 200 beggars in Lucknow till now. He has helped them in becoming self-independent by providing them rickshaws, daily jobs and giving them a purpose in life to work for. He has helped them in removing their drug addiction and motivated them to work for a living. He is the founder of Badlav which is working towards this cause by initiating several programs like Bhikshvratti Mukti Abhiyaan, Covid-19 Relief work and Bal Jeewanshala. He has worked out a model in which his team rehabilitate a batch of beggars in 6 months. Starting with Lucknow, he is now scaling up this model to Kanpur and Raipur as well. There are many such activists who are working for a similar reason, and they need our support.
Linking the handle to support Sharad Patel: milaap.org
- As it must be obvious that these beggars don’t have any of national documents and many a time they are considered as immigrants. Inclusion of beggars as a proper citizen and providing them ration cards, Aadhar card and other essential documents through which they can get the maximum benefits of the government programmes. This sort of initiatives needs to be taken by each of the state government to make sure that the government program is actually helping the people who are in need of such help the most.
Shivam Kumar, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad