Early in the morning a group of blind sadhus passed through the street singing melodious hymns. I curiously looked outside and thought that since they were blind and few of them looked old too, hence they should be given something, as a reward for singing. First I thought of giving them a 10 rupees note, then changed my mind and picked a 50 rupees note instead. Stopping them on the way, I tried to offer them the money, but they refused to accept it, saying that they are “not begging and would not take money from anybody”. I got impressed and overwhelmed at the same time.
After a few minutes, someone informed me that the sadhus were asking for water outside. By the time I reached down, they settled down on the floor. I asked from where had they come. “Vrandavan”, was the reply. I said why didn’t they take the money? They replied, “We are going to Vaishno Devi. They won’t be charged for travel or food, but they need to buy new clothes there.” They ‘ordered’ me to pay for the clothes. They were nine and each dress would cost Rs 400. Means they wanted me to pay Rs 3,600. That was too much. I felt cheated and asked them to leave.
Begging is a social problem associated with poverty and unemployment. India’s begging laws are based on centuries-old European laws that criminally held the poor responsible for their condition, instead of providing a solution. The definition of a beggar as per the law says – one who appears poor.
The purpose of the anti-beggar legislation is aimed at removing the poor from the city. In India, according to the 2011 census, there are more than four lakh beggars. According to a recent Delhi government survey, there are 20,719 beggars in the city, of which 24% are below 18 years of age. People are willing to give money to children. But begging violates the fundamental rights of children.
Children who beg are unable to study, due to which their future becomes uncertain and they get trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty and exploitation. Many kids are forced by their parents to beg.
The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has started a pilot project for rehabilitation of beggars in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Indore, Lucknow, Mumbai, Nagpur, Patna and Ahmedabad. Begging in India is a multi-million industry, a highly organised business that employs children. Since children with disabilities get more money, there is greater demand for such children.
For this often normal kids are forcibly disabled. A study by World Vision states that around the world 8 million children have been forced into begging. The report mentions that 110 million children are facing hunger. According to section 76 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, whoever compels a child to beg, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years and a fine of one lakh rupees.
Governments must offer rehabilitation care appropriate to each child’s needs, including education, healthcare, help with de-addiction and helping their families return. India as a nation needs to think about the begging population.
By Narvijay Yadev